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2017/18 JCR Premier League preview: Catz favourites to retain the title

Matt Roller previews the 2017/18 JCR Premier Division

The JCR Men’s Premier Division gets underway in first week, and all seven sides competing for college football’s ultimate prize have undergone big changes over the summer months. With top scorers graduating, new captains stepping down, and incoming freshers largely unknown entities, the league is exceptionally unpredictable, but it may shape up as follows:

Title Challengers:

Defending champions St. Catz go into 2017/18 full of confidence – as ever – and with good reason. Capricious midfielder Till Wicker returns after a long-term injury, but it is up front that the real talent lies. After captaining UCL last campaign, Thomas Achtel slotted straight into the Blues side against Oxford City Academy in pre-season, and grabbed a hat-trick on debut. If he finds form at college level, Catz will prove a difficult team to beat.

Cuppers semi-finalists Exeter have been a real force in college football for the past few years, and this season should be no different. Goalkeeper Sean Gleeson has been given the captain’s armband, and Blues skipper Alex Urwin is a priceless asset with his defensive ability and capacity to ping balls forward from centre-back. Oluwatobi Olaitan’s panache and creativity in midfield will be vital going forward, and although it remains to be seen how Exeter will replace George Bustin’s goals, the Turl Street outfit are optimistic about their title chances.

St. John’s preparations for the season have been less than ideal, with a late change to the captaincy required after Centaurs’ [University Second XI] captain Sam Morris stepped down from the position. Ben Briggs has stepped up to replace him, but the men in red will likely be reliant on Eddy Mort replicating last year’s goalscoring form. The striker, who started up front on the Blues’ China tour, scored nine for the college last campaign, and set up another ten.

Mid-table mediocrity:

Typically strong in the JCR Premier Division, Wadham’s top-three finish last season was no surprise. However, they are without the mercurial talents of winger Ben Williams this year, who has moved to Cambridge to study for his Masters. If they fail to replace his creativity and trickery, a challenge for the title could prove too much.

Queen’s go into this season without last year’s captain Adam Rhaiti. After impressing for the Centaurs, the Modern Languages student misses out on the upcoming campaign due to his year abroad, and he leaves a gaping hole in central midfield. However, Dom Thelen, who scored one and set up another in Oxford’s 3-2 Varsity win last year, has a predatory instinct which makes him an invaluable asset at this level.

Facing the drop:

After several strong years challenging for the Premier Division title, Worcester finished in mid-table last season, and go into 2017/18 without either of their two top scorers from that campaign. Defensively, they look strong, with Blues centre-half Sam Hale and new skipper Matt Wilson marshalling the troops, but they are reliant on a strong fresher intake for goals.

Newly-promoted Balliol are something of an unknown entity. With very few players involved in the university set-up, the Broad Street side will be reliant on college-level stalwarts to keep them in the Premier Division – it could be a long season.

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