4 December 2019

Surly Griffins' speed win over Hearts in Canberra Roller Derby Grand Final

| Emma Davidson
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Someone Elsa about to take a fall

Someone Elsa about to take a fall thanks to blocking by the Red Bellied Black Hearts in the Canberra Roller Derby League Grand Final. Photos: Tim Suess, Black Fortress Labs.

December brings the end of Canberra Roller Derby League’s 10th year of games in Canberra, with the Grand Final played last Saturday night.

Last year’s first place winners, the Brindabelters, won the bronze against the Black and Blue Belles with a final score of 240 to 179. The playoff for first and second place, between the Red Bellied Black Hearts and the Surly Griffins, saw every player push themselves just that little bit further to try to take home the trophy. Ultimately, the final score of 211 to 182 saw the Surly Griffins win. But with a points gap of just 29 points, it could easily have gone the other way.

Brindabelters and Black and Blue Belles players in a pack playing for 3rd place

Brindabelters and Black and Blue Belles playing for 3rd place in the Canberra Roller Derby League finals.

During the first half, the Griffins used the tried and true ‘points and call’ tactics that the Vice City Rollers (Canberra Roller Derby League’s travelling tournament team) are known for. This meant doing their utmost to get lead jammer status, making as many scoring passes as possible before the Black Hearts jammer breaks through the pack, and then calling it off before the Black Hearts could score any points. It was a slow and steady strategy towards controlling the game by maintaining a constant lead.

As often happens in Canberra Roller Derby League games, the Black Hearts upped their offensive play in the second half to try to close the gap. Having finished the first half with a 38 point lead in favour of the Surly Griffins, the Black Hearts were able to narrow the gap to 25 points for a few jams in the second half. A power jam (where the lead jammer is in the penalty bin and therefore can’t score points or call off the jam, making it much easier for the other team’s jammer to score) can easily result in 20 or more points added to a score, so this increased the pressure on both teams to avoid having their jammer penalised.

Apex jumps on the inside line were a spectator-thrilling feature of the game. In her fourth outing as jammer for the Black Hearts in the game, Killie Jean attempted an apex jump that ended in a beautiful rockstar glide across the track on one knee, forcing her to get back behind the pack and push through again. Killie Jean’s willingness to take a chance, speed to chase down the opposition, and strength to push them out made her both a valuable blocker and a skilled jammer throughout the game.

Berries Alive was a crowd favourite as a jammer for the Black Hearts, often lining up against Fast and Furiosa as Surly Griffin’s jammer. Berries Alive showed strength and skill to push through strong green defensive walls in a quarter of her jams. Furiosa lived up to her name, consistently exploding off the jam line at the start. Once off the line, she smashed through the Black Hearts blockers, or showed her agility and balance to take either the inside or outside line on a remarkably thin margin without incurring a cut track penalty. As a result, Furiosa won lead in 71 per cent of the jams she skated, up from 64 per cent in her October game for the Griffins against the Brindabelters.

Fast and Furiosa attempts an apex jump

Fast and Furiosa attempts an apex jump during the play-off for first place between the Surly Griffins and Red Bellied Black Hearts at the Canberra Roller Derby League Grand Final.

There was plenty to keep spectators from blinking, with star passes a common occurrence for the Black Hearts. Frequent use of triangle formations by blockers encouraged jammers to look for opportunities to take a chance on an apex jump, although Grim Wraith from the Black Hearts seemed to do well with pure strength, pushing the wall until it disintegrated into a no-pack. In the third last jam, Black Hearts skater Pink Mist was coming in hot on the pack, performed a perfect 180-degree spin to back into the Griffins wall at full speed, and gave it a good solid shove before attempting an apex jump that landed her in the penalty bin. At that late stage in the game, and with a slim points margin, it was worth the risk and gave the stadium crowd something to cheer for.

Thanks for another great year of amazing skills and sporting fun, Canberra Roller Derby League. Looks like speed and consistency are the way to the trophy, so bring on 2020!

If watching the derby isn’t enough, you’ll find all the info on their current Freshies Intake on Facebook, and it’s not too late to ask Santa for roller skates for Christmas!

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