After a number of seasons of mid table mediocrity, the 2011/12 season was a much better campaign for the PGRFC senior squad ending in vastly improved showing for both the 1st and 2nd XV’s.
Off the field the club had much to celebrate as well as it became the first Northern Club to host the England Counties XV when they played Irish Clubs at Lightfoot Green on Friday 16th March.
A busy off season saw a number of new faces join the ranks as the campaign began. Experience was added to the squad in the shape of Ali Atkinson, Graham Holroyd, Andy Irving, Alan Martindale and a belated start to a union career for player coach Karl Fitzpatrick. Youngsters Chris Gale, Nathan Fowles, Alex Austin, Killian Wallace, Ally Murray, Phil Mills and Will Keenan gave the squad some increased depth whilst a number of other new faces from the clubs junior system also came into the senior squad.
After a reasonable showing in pre-season, the 1st XV got off to a positive start with six wins and a draw from their opening ten league games. Good wins over Caldy, Westoe and Harrogate were highlights but a disappointing reverse at Kendal would prove costly as the season wore on. The 2nd XV got off to a flying start in the Bateman Premier Division winning their first ten league games whilst conceding a miserly 48 points in the process. This included four clean sheets on the trot as a number of players showed they were capable of making the step up to 1st XV rugby.
As the season moved into the winter months the 1st XV encountered an inconsistent spell. Between November and the end of January the side won six but lost five of the eleven games played. A free flowing style was starting to emerge and the ability to play entertaining rugby was to be boosted by a significant arrival. The away win at Stockport on 12th November saw the debut of Sean Long, the league legend having been persuaded to come out of a short term retirement to don his boots again. His home debut against Hull Ionians on 19th November attracted a large crowd and much media interest with BBC North West covering the game along with a multitude of sporting press. On the day the team failed to rise to the occasion and were disappointing losers against a team which had recruited a number of new faces in the week previously. More new faces further boosted the squad with Alan Holmes, Jack Ward and Matt Gargett all joining the ranks whilst a number of impressive younger players were starting to come into 1st XV contention. Youngsters such as Josh Purnell, Conor Murphy, Antony Elliott, Lewis Allen and Sam Gale all made their debuts after impressing in the 2nd XV.
The 2nd XV continued in the winning vein, dropping just one game to old rivals Sedgley Park as they easily qualified for Conference A after the mid season split. The team secured a number of high scoring wins although one reverse at Caldy was to prove the team’s largest defeat of the season.
The last three months of the season proved to be an exciting run in. The 1st XV really put their foot on the pedal and claimed some noticeable bonus point wins over the likes of Luctonians, Harrogate, Stockport, Hull Ionians and Otley (in which Number 8 Dominic Moon created a National League record for a forward when scoring 7 tries in one game in a 90-5 win which became Hoppers biggest ever league win). The last month of the season was enthralling as a number of teams chased the runners up play off spot and with it a crack at promotion. Unfortunately a sloppy defeat in the penultimate game against Huddersfield ended any chances of a play off berth but the team dusted itself down to put champions Loughborough Students to the sword by 50 points on the last league Saturday of the season.
The 2nD XV were involved in a scrap for the title. Having remained consistent throughout the season it was turning into a three horse race between Hoppers, Sedgley and Macclesfield. A one point win over Macclesfield was followed by a crucial win at Sedgley to put Hoppers in the driving seat and even a late defeat in the return fixture at Macc couldn’t stop the 2nd XV from having the destiny of the title in their own hands as they faced Chester in the last game of the season. A comfortable win followed to seal the title with the lads being rewarded with a lunch at the last 1st XV home game where they were awarded with the trophy. A league and cup double wasn’t to be as Sedgley exacted some revenge in the Halbro Cup semi final.
However the season wasn’t finished. After a comfortable passage into the Lancashire Cup Final, Hoppers 1st XV beat higher ranked opposition in the form of Sedgley Tigers with a superb attacking display to win by 30-10 and with it claim the trophy for only the third time in the clubs history. This was a fitting end to what had been a positive season.
Over the course of the season, 51 players represented the 1st XV in league and cup whilst 72 players were involved in the 2nd XV campaign. The club enjoyed a staggering return of Lancashire Cup wins with the 11, 12, 14, 15 and 17 age groups all winning their county cups in addition to the 1st XV. This gave the club six cup wins out of a possible nine within the Lancashire RFU Cup Competitions and as a result the club was awarded the “Lancashire RFU Senior Club of the Season” accolade at the county’s end of season awards dinner.
This proved to be a fitting end to an enjoyable season.