The first year in Jewson 1 (level 3 or the top 40 clubs in England) saw Hoppers finish a creditable 8th from a league of 14 in season 1999/2000 after an even more promising start.
2000/2002 provided some cause for concern halfway through the season when the Club was anchored near the foot of the table with the prospect of three clubs being relegated but a run of 6 wins from the final 8 brought about a 7th place finish.
The loss of a couple of influential players and a forbidding injury list played havoc in the following season and after several games were lost early on by fewer than three points, the squad lost confidence and embarked on the Club’s longest ever losing sequence involving the last 16 games. This resulted inevitably in a return to Division 3 North after just 3 years in the higher echelons.
After a poor start to 2002/03 season, alarm bells began to ring and cautionary tales were recalled where teams have suffered from ‘the slippery slope syndrome’. Former Saracens captain and highly successful coach of the Manchester club, Alex Keay was brought in to stabilise things on the playing side and to lay the foundations for the future development of semi-professional rugby as well as supervising the continued production of talent from the buoyant Mini Junior Section.
Hoppers also formed a partnership with Myerscough College to promote a Rugby Academy, which has an exciting future and is already showing benefits to both parties.
The season climaxed with an impressive trophy find its way to Preston. At the fourth attempt at a Final success, ‘Hoppers defeated West Park in the Lancashire Cup Final. The journey had not been easy; first Division 2 Fylde were defeated at Ansdell before Manchester from Division 1 were demolished 60-12 at Lightfoot Green. Alex Keay and his squad of players had achieved something that had eluded the club for over 130 years.
After a promising start to season 2003/4, following on from the previous season’s brand of stylish running rugby, results quickly went into decline, ending with the clubs first relegation out of the National Leagues. Despite an easy early National Cup win over League newcomers Longton, events began to follow a depressingly familiar pattern.
After 8 League games, only two wins had been achieved although the fact that Hoppers had twice scored 4 tries away from home and lost and still enjoyed a positive points difference reflected the closeness of the results. Even more worrying was the early onset of injuries, particularly to key players, none more so than No.8 Richard Morton who was to miss most of the season. If the following seasons points scoring system for the league had been in place, ‘Hoppers would have avoided relegation due to the closeness of many of their defeats and the number of times they scored four or more tries in a match.
Floodlighting to the main pitch was installed during the summer of 2004 with a pre-season practice game involving the Senior Squad players and improved drainage between the duck-pond and Number 1 pitch was carried out.
September 2005 saw ‘Hoppers “return from whence they came” with their return to the National Leagues in Division III North, this after finishing Champions of the North I Division. Success didn’t to come easily however, with the chasing pack of the two Hull teams, Chester and West Park taking our season to its penultimate game at Sheffield, when a comfortable victory clinched promotion. It was hoped that icing could be applied to the cake with a second Lancashire Cup Final victory, but West Park were to prove a more determined outfit on the day.
The club have remained at Level 4 of the league structure ever since, and the beginning of season 2010-11 saw Alex Keay and his coaching team make way for Dave Baldwin to take the Head Coach’s position. Dave was ably assisted by Karl Fitzpatrick the former Salford City Reds Super League and Irish RL international with Michael Lough as backs coach also managing the 2nd XV on match days.
There were a couple of historical events during the 2011/12 season when Rugby League legend, Sean Long joined the playing staff and Dominic Moon scored a League record seven tries by a forward, equalling the all time record in the demolition of Otley near the end of the season.
After Dave Baldwin moved on to coach the forwards at Championship Club Leeds Carnegie, Michael Lough moved up to take his place during the Summer of 2012. Former Hoppers player John Young took ‘Luffys’ place in coaching the Seconds and Alan Holmes joined the coaching staff to overlook the forwards.
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