Charmed and unharmed - SSRD Final Smackdown 30/11/13

Cutthroat Charmers dominate Dolly Rogers in the grand final of the 2013 home season at SSRD.

Is this what it's like to be jamming?

We were hurtling down the Monash at just slightly under the speed of 2013 itself, weaving and twisting around the walls of what would be blockers, if they weren't blockheads, doing 60 in a 100 zone - and that's when the question popped into my head. The first year of 'no minors' WFTDA roller derby really seems to have gone by that fast. I was equally as surprised to hear that the Cutthroat Charmers, one of South Sea Roller Derby league's two original home teams, had enjoyed an unbeatable 12 months - because exactly the opposite had occurred in 2012. Perhaps roller derby seasons are like the bouts themselves - a proverbial hand up for those of you who have seen a complete turnaround for the underdog in the second half?

On the eve of summer, the Final Smackdown had arrived. South Sea were hosting their 80's-themed grand final at Springers Leisure Centre on 30th November. With the sun still high in the sky, we rolled on in and set up in the less-used left side of the venue, alongside a stretch of enthusiastic market stall holders and even a new Op Shop. The two teams warming up for the night were old favourites and friendly rivals The Dolly Rogers, their outfits fleeting explosions of red bursting around the wooden track - and those aforementioned Charmers, dressed as always in the very shades of black-and-blue bruises they inflict.

First half

After a demonstration of the rules for the uninitiated, the first half kicked off with a bang. The Dolly Rogers were first to put up points on the board, Emmalition coming away with a quick 5 points. However, a series of penalties were unwelcome news for them in subsequent jams, and the Charmers gave no quarter as they used the advantage to confidently overtake and stretch an early lead out over their opponents.

Derby's short bursts, sounds and very physical engagement have a way of sweeping the spectators up in the moment (case in point: I forgot to take any notes at all for this recap). I can only imagine how it is for skaters, and how that impacts on the track when focus is crucial. In this sense, it seemed that the Dollys struggled to recover, from a morale perspective, from the initial mishaps. Both teams were having a series of penalties rained down mercilessly upon them by the referees, yet the red team were experiencing more jammer errors that handed over costly powerjams to the other.

Even a time-out called by the coaches, which often proves enough to reset and prevent the negative momentum from carrying away with itself, didn't seem to deliver. It took a second case of the team's limited time-outs to do this some minutes later, but around this point the Charmers had already broken the century mark, and there were still at least 8 minutes left in the first half. By the time that that 30-minute period ended, the furiously intense purple team were steamrolling ahead at 136 to 57 - the Dollys having finally moved off the 20 points they had remained stagnant on for some time.

There was no mistaking the confident ambition by the Cutthroats on this evening - they were simply doing everything right by strategic terms- but of course, as always, the game was way too early to call. The vibe shifted its focus to the dodgeball game at half-time with people of all ages taking part - another signature of SSRD's family friendly and welcoming events.

Second half

The second half saw some exceptional team plays by the Dolly Rogers that restored much confidence to their cheering fans. Assault 'N' Pepper performed particularly well - so I hear, as I made a rookie mistake, returning from a toilet break to see the Rogers' score suddenly catapulted up into the triple figures like their opponent.

In derby, when both teams are spontaneously racing the scoreboard through the 100s against the clock, everything has a way of seeming a bit more levelled. Assault 'N' Pepper, easily the most versatile all-rounder in the team if not the league, had enjoyed an evidently historic jam. Ending it in the familiar echoes of a chorus of referee whistles, the skater glided around the track back to her bench with arms outstretched, riding the turbulence of derby crowd enthusiasm - a hint to those of us that missed it that she had flown in not only herself through the Charmer pack over and over again in those two minutes, but her team's chances as well, in an effort to snatch this victory as those Dollys did the previous year.

But the penalties continued to hurt as the Cutthroat lead expanded. The officials came down heavy on a variety of but frequently occurring range of errors: out of play, track cuts, multiplayer blocks (which I've noticed have occurred more often this year even in other leagues), and forearms. Back blocks were not so common. Some insubordination calls baffled both skaters and audience, as these observations were difficult to recognise - especially when the skater was doing little but trying to safely leave the track for receiving a prior penalty - but who knows what detail our spectating perspectives miss, with our outside-in view of the frenzy of a fast-paced pack.

The game may sound like a blow out, but it wasn't like that at all. The Charmers weren't perfect, and occasionally struggled to form the walls necessary to impede a Dolly jammer. The odd hip check would sometimes send a Dolly careening into the path of the oncoming Charmer jammer. Whereas their individual players are astoundingly powerful, the Charmer weak point can be (in this author's opinion) defensive strength as a team, even with a pack advantage. On-track communication, in derby, seems often to be a strength in and of itself - right down to team awareness of their position relative to an oncoming jammer returning from the penalty box. These are just observations by someone who barely understands the rules let alone strategy, though. And the Charmers blockers noticeably improved their interactions on the track throughout the second half.

And after all, is there any more complicated role in sport than that of the blocker, who has to both defend and yet aggressively introduce advantages for their star-wearing teammate? I don't discredit the challenge at all. And some Charmers were particularly effective at this, noticeably Blitzkrieg Deluxe, a veteran player returning from a break caused by nasty injury earlier in the year. Not only was she able to lock down Dolly opponents in her inimitable style, but she even found opportunity to force track-cut penalties on the players she pushed out of bounds. Another terrific example of Charmer blocking on the track was Koffen Kandie, whose work picked up an honourable mention in the after-bout awards.

However, it was the Dollys blockers that, as several attendees remarked during and after the game, were like glue on the track for the most part. Quicker to recognise when they'd left a hole open in their defense, they'd swiftly recalibrate, together, to remedy it. But their problem was penalties, and the fact that their communication and collaboration was too rarely put to the test, since they too often didn't have the pack advantage. But when enough of their wheels simultaneously met the track, they were truly formidable. Certain clashes stand out in my mind, such as an epic hit by Titasaurus against Anita Amputate which left no choice but for the Charmers jammer, all momentum lost on the 2nd turn, to call it off. There were also some superb reverse blocks with the help of toe-stops such as the one below - a move I personally love and have also seen performed by Harmin' Miranda in an earlier interleague bout this year:

So it was that the Dollys made great advancements in the second half in the chase for a potential lead change - but it never arrived. The Cutthroat Charmers had begun the night with the right mix of confidence, careful attention to clean play and a very impressive and clever rotation of jammers that kept them fresh and energetic throughout. As well as being aided by some wonderfully efficient assists from their blockers, the Charmer jammers also executed some well-timed call-offs to keep building on their sizeable lead.

The last line-up handed a powerjam over to Dolly Roger jammer Flux Decapitator, but she struggled to break a fierce arsenal of intimidating Charmer resistance. Ultimately the period clock wound down with a decisive triumph for 2013's undefeated Cutthroat Charmers: a whopping differential of 118 points, at 254 to 136 in their favour.


So wraps up another year of home bout battles on the SSRD high seas. But the 'final countdown' isn't up for 2013 - summer is finally here, and that's a great time to consider a road trip, so why not make your way out to Ballarat on December 8 to see both of the league's travel teams in the double header 'Deck the Girls'! The Sirens will take on the Ballarat Rat Pack, while the Banshees go up against Bendigo's Chiko Rollers. Details can be found on this Facebook event page.

Thank you to Beeetle for the photos. See the rest of the album here!