So with all play off and level transfer issues now sorted we can confirm the shape of National 2 North for next season.
So following on from our last piece on this subject, what had already been decided? Well, we already knew that Loughborough Students were deserved N2N champions whilst local rivals Kendal were confirmed for the drop. Dropping down from National One were Birmingham & Solihull and Stourbridge whilst Rugby Lions and Darlington Mowden Park were confirmed arrivals from below (but in Rugby Lions case this would be only rubber stamped after possible level transfers were sorted out).
What else has now been confirmed? Nuneaton were the first side to join Kendal in relegation down from N2N after losing to both Otley and Loughborough. A final day win over Caldy meant they left with their heads held high. The final relegation place would go to one of two Yorkshire neighbours, Otley or Harrogate. For most of the last afternoon it looked as though Otley would perish as they were a long way behind in their game at Ionians for most of the match. With Harrogate pipping Leicester Lions to a narrow 25-21 win (but with no try bonus point) it seemed that the men from Claro Road would be safe until an amazing Otley fightback and a winning try in injury time gave them an incredible 38-39 win, a try bonus point and with it consigned Gate to the drop. Otley live on in N2N to fight another day.
For promotion it was Caldy who made the play off with Hoppers one point behind in 3rd place in the final league standings. However this issue was resolved before the final weekend of league matches. Caldy had to travel South to face Richmond in the play off for promotion to Level 3. The game turned into an epic match. Caldy were reduced to 14 men after 15 minutes following a red card for a Caldy forward for a dangerous tip tackle. However the men from the Wirral were the better team even with their numerical disadvantage and managed to battle to a 13-13 draw at full time. Under the rules 10 minutes each way extra time was to be played and this in the end was a bridge too far for Caldy as the home side eventually got a winning try to edge a fiercely competitive match 20-13. Richmond go into National One whilst Caldy remain in N2N. Whether any side should have home advantage in such games is debateable and a point that has had much discussion. Personally I think a neutral venue which is equally far to travel for both teams would be a fairer system.
In the promotion play off to join N2N it was Dudley Kingswinford who prevailed against Rossendale in a high scoring encounter in which both teams had the lead on more than one occasion. However in the end home advantage told again and it is the Midlanders and not the East Lancashire outfit who are promoted.
So after all the above we are left with 17 teams in the Northern section. Under such circumstances then one club must be “level transferred” to the Southern league to ensure both leagues have 16 in number. After a quick mileage calculation it is Rugby Lions who will move to N2S. They do have a right of appeal but it appears that the Lions are happy to transfer.
Therefore the teams in N2N next season will be as follows:-
North West – Preston Grasshoppers, Caldy, Stockport
Yorkshire – Otley, Huddersfield, Hull, Hull Ionians, Sheffield Tigers
North East – Darlington Mowden Park, Westoe
Midlands – Luctonians, Bromsgrove, Dudley Kingswinford, Birmingham & Solihull, Stourbridge, Leicester Lions.
Again N2N looks like being a competitive league all the way through with all teams able to compete. The amount of travelling involved could be a factor with a larger representation of Midland’s based sides than there has been for a while, whilst two trips to the North East will also be required.
The first round of league fixtures is on 1st September and the opening month’s draft fixtures for Hoppers sees them due to open up at home against newly promoted Darlington Mowden Park before a trip to Sheffield Tigers on the second weekend. Two back to back home games then follow against the Hull sides with Ionians first to visit Lightfoot Green on 15th September. The final weekend in September sees a trip to the North East to face Westoe. As is stands we are due to be at home on 22nd December against Sheffield Tigers. The fixtures are still to be formally confirmed but with no objections having been lodged so far it would seem that this will be inked in over the coming days. A formal announcement about the full fixture list will follow in due course.