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Sandwell Steelers face off for the play-offs

Sport | Published:

Sandwell Steelers will be aiming to put the seal on a stunning season on Saturday when when they face-off for play-off glory.

Having clinched promotion to the Northern Football Conference Division One with a convincing 59-13 semi-final win over the Newcastle Vikings.

The Steelers now face familiar foes Peterborough Saxons in the NFC Division Two final.

The clash takes place at the John Charles Centre for Sports in Leeds with Steelers looking to make it a perfect 13 wins from 13 games this term.

Peterborough upset the number one seeds Manchester Titans 24-18 in the other semi-final but Steelers will start as favourites having already beaten the Saxons twice during the regular season.

The shot at silverware completes an incredible turnaround for the Steelers considering they were the basement club in the division last year, managing just two wins in 10 outings.

Head coach Jay Alexander has overseen the upturn in fortunes and was quick to praise his squad's efforts, saying: "I'm delighted for these lads.

"We've all worked hard to change this team's culture from last year, and I think anyone would be hard pushed to say we don't deserve to be where we are now."

Steelers quarterback Josh Bartimus lines up a pass.

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Running back Leigh French was the star of the show against the Vikings, setting a club record of four scores in a game after running in three touchdowns and catching another.

Defensively. the Steelers were in fine form, shutting down the Newcastle attack behind strong performances from Ovie Omueda, Sam Banner, James Beckett, and James Moylan.

The defence also forced several turnovers with Greg Freeman, Pete Roden and Sam Busher all making interceptions to consistently give Sandwell excellent field position.

The offence took full advantage of this with a total of nine touchdowns.

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In addition to French's four scores, quarterback Jonny Glover also threw a touchdown pass to Ben Bray – Bray's first score of his career.

Not satisfied with one, Bray added a second before the end of the game on a pass from backup quarterback Josh Bartimus, who also connected with Declan Evans for another score.

Dwaine Haughton and Alexander also added scores on the ground – Haughton on a trademark long run, and Alexander with an equally familiar short yardage effort.

Liam Duncan, Dan James and Drew Newiss all added conversions to complete the scoring. However, a source of concern for the Black Country men will be their special teams' play.

The Steelers were caught out by Newcastle on a fake punt, in addition to giving up a big yardage and conceding both of their scores on kick returns.

Alexander said: "The defence were outstanding. Our coaches put many hours into scouting our opponents.

"We watch films of their games,imicking what they'll see during practices, and work on a game plan to shut down their key players.

"The players executed that plan to perfection – we never gave Newcastle's offence a chance to get in the game.

"Offensively, considering we scored nine times I have to say we still weren't as consistent as we'd like to be.

"However, we were able to capitalise on a couple of key turnovers early, and that helped us settle in.

"Then once we got into a rhythm, we were able to go through the gears and perform more in line with what we're capable of doing.

"Our special teams' play was a big issue. When we score points, we can't afford to give the momentum right back to teams on the following kick off, and that happened twice.

"We'll need to sharpen that up this week in practice, or we'll suffer again with it in the final. On the whole though, it was a solid performance from the whole squad.

"A special mention must be given to Ben on his first career scores.

"He's worked really hard all year in practice and in games and stepped up his game to become an important part of our receiver rotation.

"I'm sure he'll be keen to build off this and try to add to his total in the final."

The Steelers won 41-14 against Peterborough at home and 28-24 and Alexander is determined to ensure that no complacency creeps in as his team look to sign off in style on Saturday.

He said: "We know Peterborough are a quality side. That second game was a real back-and-forth affair, and was probably the hardest we were pushed all season.

"Peterborough will feel that we nicked the win, and they're riding a wave momentum from two outstanding performances away from home to get to the finals.

"They will be confident they can avenge their defeats from earlier this year, and we know that anything less than our best effort won't be good enough to win."

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