Team Previews – The NSW Blue Tongues

Team History: 

The NSW Blue Tongues is the other team who have been taking part in Quidditch Australia’s state level competition since its inception at the start of 2016. Competing against the Victorian state team in this original State Of Origin series of three sets of three games, the Blue Tongues won the second series 2-1 but overall came a narrow second, winning four games to Victoria’s five. When the state competition evolved into the single State Shield event in 2017, the Blue Tongues went winless across three games against the Victorians. They were able to come back last year with five straight wins against the Victorian Leadbeaters to finally claim the title for NSW. As the other long-established quidditch state in Australia and with a rapidly growing playerbase, NSW remains Victoria’s greatest competition and rival in the competition They present a strong team of state and Dropbear veterans supplemented by promoted players from the state’s B team, who will be looking to level the overall State Shield score to 2-2 against the Victorians. 

Roster and Reserves of the 2019 Blue Tongues, with new logo designed by Brittney Watiwat and Tegan Diep

Interview with Team Leadership: 

We spoke to Paul Harrison, Head Coach of the Blue Tongues for the second year, and Raj Kapoor, the team’s captain this year and veteran of the squad, about their thoughts on the upcoming competition. 

1. How are you approaching State Shield/what are your goals for the tournament?

Paul: My approach to State Shield is the same as my approach to any major tournament; to win in a way that is both honest and meaningful for the team.

Raj: State Shield is the highest quality of quidditch we get to experience in our part of the world. With the inability to have leagues such as MLQ (Major League Quidditch in the US) or QPL (Quidditch Premier League in the UK), or tournaments like EQC (European Quidditch Cup), State Shield is extremely important for the promotion of the sport and the development of top level talent. Retaining the Shield is extremely important. After having a tough few years at the start of the tournament, the team is keen to prove that last year’s win wasn’t a one off. The goals for the tournament are the same: get the win, play good quidditch, have a blast.

The Victorious 2018 Blue Tongues | Photo: Ajantha Abey Quidditch Photography

2. How have you prepared/trained for State Shield and how confident are you at this point?

Paul: Every player on the team has a solid understanding of the game and has their own unique qualities to add to the team. With this in mind, trainings were always focused on building teamwork between players rather than focusing on any particular skill set. Whilst I imagine every team playing this tournament will provide tough competition (training against the Bluebottles has already proven this to be true), I have every confidence in my team’s ability to perform if we play our own game.

Raj: We’ve been lucky enough to have a good spread of players across the top teams in NSW and those teams being open to have their trainings being taken over by the Blue Tongues alongside a few weekends to get that synergy going. I’m very confident that we’ll have a good showing over the weekend. We’ve got a great squad with amazing depth and versatility alongside a top coach. I’m keen to step on pitch and tough it out to win it all again.

3. Where do most of the players on your team come from? Any players you think people should look out for? 

Paul: Our players come from a variety of different teams, many of them having played for multiple club teams in the past. Ranging from past World Cup winners to State Shield newbies, every player on this team has a high level of talent and should be looked out for.

Raj: Sydney City Serpents and University of Sydney Unspeakables contribute the most, but new teams Valkyries Quidditch Club and North Sydney Nightmares are not far behind. The team itself is a nice mix of state and Dropbear vets plus a few new faces. Luke Derrick, Nat Astalosh, and Isobel Rennie all return to bring their vast beating experience to the team alongside Sam Chittenden, Gary Hague, and Courtney Buckley, forming the veteren core of the team. 2018 Dropbear Arlyta Andrews makes her long awaited Blue Tongues debut. On the other side, USyds dynamic keeper duo Max Brenner and Haydn Johansson both make their own Blue Tongues debuts. Max was sidelined last year due to injury and Haydn of course was the 2018 MVP for his amazing play with the NSW B team. I’m sure they’ll both be keen to put their stamp on the tournament, just as they have this year in the NSW Quidditch League.

4. Why should people be excited to see your team playing at State Shield? 

Paul: State Shield is one of the few events on the Australian quidditch calendar that brings the best performers in the country together for a tournament and the Bluetongues have more than their fair share of this talent. If you want to see top quality teams playing to quality quidditch, this is the place to do it.

Raj: I believe we’ve got a really well balanced squad with enough new talent and old hands that something spectacular will happen almost every single game. From long range ultra accurate beats to unreasonably high alley-oops, nothing is off the table. However, most important of all people should be excited for the rock-paper-scissor contest at the start of each game. I know that’s what I’m looking forward to.

New Jerseys of the re-branded Blue Tongues, designed by Tegan Diep and Brittney Watiwat 

Analysis & Commentary: 

While NSW struggled against Victoria in the earlier years of the competition, last year’s competition proved this was finally no longer the case and the years of Victoria’s dominance were over. The growth of NSW quidditch over the years has resulted in a growing player-base from which to source top level talent. The presence of NSW’s B Team, the Bluebottles, in the final round of the 2016 State competition and at the 2018 State Shield, has proved immensely valuable to the state’s development and growth, producing a well seasoned team of elite level players for this year’s competition. 

If the Monash University quidditch program is the dominant force behind the Leadbeaters for Victoria, then the University of Sydney Quidditch Club is that for NSW. This year, the Blue Tongues feature five current players from the USyd Unspeakables team and a further seven alums, with two current Unspeakables and an ex-Unspeakable on the team’s reserve. Many of these ex-Unspeakables now hail from the Sydney City Serpents, whose current and recent players count eight of the Blue Tongues players and three reserves (as well as Head Coach Harrison). The Serpents and Unspeakables have dominated the NSW State league (and indeed, State Teams) for the past two years, with lots of competitive success in interstate competitions between them. Two thirds of the Blue Tongues this year have been retained from the 2018 squad, with a further four being promoted from the Bluebottles. 

With so much experience playing with each other already, and now under the aegis of Harrison as Head Coach for the second year, the Blue Tongues have remarkable scope for expanding their tactical arsenal and significant capacity for synergy, which will be crucial against the well-drilled Victorian team. 

Like the Victorians, there are still some notable absences this year, especially in significant keeper-drivers such as Brandon Frison, Dameon Osborn, and Miles Newton, all players on the 2018 Dropbear squad. This will undoubtedly give the likes of Max Brenner, a national rower known for his athleticism and driving ability who made the team in 2018 but was unable to play due to injury, a chance to shine as a primary keeper alongside veteran Raj Kapoor. While Luke Derrick also featured in the keeper line last year, the Blue Tongues have brought up both Lukasz Sikora and Haydn Johansson from the Bluebottles, both exceptional keepers and distributors, Johansson being awarded Most Valuable Player at the 2018 competition. Jackson Shields, a chaser for the Blue Tongues since 2017 known for his exceptional speed, also now sits as a keeping option, rounding out a relatively new but nevertheless solid keeper line for NSW. Keepers act as playmakers and dictate a lot of the pace and strategy on offence and defence, so it will be interesting to see how a largely new keeper line changes NSW’s playing style from previous years. 

Courtney Buckley chasing at State Shield 2018 | Photo: Taylor Angelo Quidditch Shots

The chasing corps of the Blue Tongues, remains relatively consistent from previous years, with players like Dropbear reserve Samantha Chittennden and Gary Hauge representing NSW for the fourth year, Courtney Buckley for the third year, and chaser-seekers Lachlan Ward and Jonathon O’Brien also having played on the team before. Arlyta Andrew, a promotion from the Bluebottles and a 2018 Dropbear, will be an asset to the Blue Tongues with her tackling ability, while Brittney Watiwat and Ava McConnell are both making their debuts on the state scene as exceptional receivers. Along with Bluebottle promotion Sanju Vairav who will also be making her Blue Tongues debut, Chittennden, Buckley, Ward, and McConnell have all played together on the Unspeakables in the last three years. They can be expected to have great team cohesion with Unspeakables keepers Brenner and Johansson. With Buckley additionally having played substantially as a keeper for Valkyries Quidditch Club this year alongside Kapoor, the Blue Tongues can be expected to have a highly versatile quaffle line up, with many players of all genders comfortable in receiving or ball-carrying roles, and familiar with playing with each other, suggesting a dynamic passing game that should be fun to watch.

What has also remained more stable from previous years is the beater core for the Blue Tongues. Though Hailey Clonts is a relatively new find for the team (though an experienced player, moving from the US last year), Natalie Astalosh and Luke Derrick have been consistent members of the Blue Tongues since their founding, with both also hailing from the Unspeakables, then Serpents, and the past two Dropbear squads. Isobel Rennie has also been a stalwart of the NSW team since 2017 and a Dropbear reserve in 2018, while Geoffrey Talbott, Harrison Jones, and Alexander Cunningham all played on the 2018 squad with the latter two being a significant duo on the Unspeakables. Retaining most of the country’s best beaters while Victoria has seen several retiring Dropbear beaters may give the Blue Tongues a significant advantage in this game-changing aspect of the team. However, with Victoria’s veteran Nathan Morton providing an answer to Derrick, the newer Muggles beaters already having proven themselves a match for Jones and Cunningham, and Dropbear Clementine Round matching up against Dropbear Astalosh, what can only be certain is a superbly entertaining beater game.

They key strength of NSW however is the seeker line up, with Cunningham and Ward arguably representing two of the fastest and most consistent seekers in the country at the moment. They are ably backed up by the likes of O’Brien, Hague, Andrew, and Talbott, all of whom can bring different qualities in size, reach, athleticism, and strength to the seeker game. The depth and versatility of NSW’s seeking capability mean that whatever snitch the team faces, there are always several excellent options. This will be vital to the team’s success in the likely in-range games against Victoria, whose main seekers’ strength lies predominantly in speed and timing. 

Lachlan Ward catches the final game winning snitch of State Shield 2019 | Photo: Ajantha Abey Quidditch Photography

Overall, the NSW Blue Tongues present a tough offensive line up and while a substantial portion of the keeper line is relatively new to the team, they are by no means new to their teammates. Although missing some of their most physical quaffle players of past years, the team has plenty of new faces to make up for it on defence, and enough versatility and synergy on offence to play effective passing or driving heavy games, depending on what the situation demands. Critically, the team’s beating and seeking corps are strong enough to present an incredibly tough snitch-on-pitch game to any opponent. After going undefeated in 2018, the Blue Tongues are the team to beat this year. 

Can the Victorians, with a home crowd in support, pull it off again? Will the growing Queensland powerhouse strike their first blow against the Blues? Is there enough parity between the A and B squads to keep the game in range? Only the weekend at Wilson Storage Trevor Barker Beach Oval will tell us! Come along to watch, and make sure to read up on the remaining teams in the next couple of days as well!