With pre-season now well underway, the Hoppers 1stXV squad are working hard on their preparations for the upcoming season. It promises to be a big season in the club’s history given that it is the 150th year of the club and that is something not lost on the players and coaches at Lightfoot Green.
Head of Rugby Operations Gareth Dyer said “We are aware we carry an extra responsibility this season when we represent our club. We are one of the oldest clubs in the country and we will be busting a collective gut to make it a memorable one on the field as well as off it. We were content with a 7th place finish last season and collecting 90 league points but it’s important we don’t over congratulate ourselves on that. It was a solid return to National Two rugby but it could and perhaps should have been even better than it was”.
The coaching staff have arranged a number of pre-season fixtures ahead of the upcoming campaign. The details are: –
Saturday 10thAugust – Wirral (H)
Saturday 17thAugust – Glasgow Hawks (H)
Saturday 24thAugust – Rotherham (H)
Wednesday 28thAugust – Blackburn (H) – Lancashire Cup 7.30pm Kick Off.
Speaking on the pre-season fixtures, Dyer said “Arnie and the coaches were keen to have a few games in pre-season. We got off to a slow start last year and it was felt it took too long to get up to speed. Hence we have set ourselves a tougher pre-season campaign than in recent years. We have re-entered the Lancashire Cup as well. We were approached by the County to gauge if we would be interested in entering and we felt it was a reasonable opportunity. We will treat the competition in a focused and committed way. The lads selected for the ties will be there on merit, there won’t be “gimme” 1stXV appearances handed out. It’s a fact of life that players miss parts of pre-season due to work or family holidays so some who perhaps miss any of the earlier pre-season games will feature against Blackburn. After that we have 10 days before the opening league game so we can give the tie our full attention”.
Speaking on the shape of the squad for the 2019/20 campaign, Dyer added “I’ve been asked why we haven’t had a raft of re-signing announcements like most clubs do at this time of year and the simple reason is that most of our lads have committed themselves for the foreseeable future some time ago! Hence we have already retained 99% of the squad we had in place and we will be announcing some new faces who are joining us. I think it’s exciting to see the depth we are building across the squad. It’s clear that the players sense that competition for places in the squad is going to be intense and we are seeing some outstanding marks in our pre-season fitness testing.
In addition to the new faces, we have Jake Squirrel back from his loan spell at Caldy and it’s clear this has really benefitted Jake. James Gough had a strong season last year and is working hard to get back to full fitness. Oga Mabaya too is already ahead of schedule on his return. I’m also keen to see how the likes of Ewan Naylor and Connor Johnson push on now they out our Under 20’s rugby. It’s also great to see John Wells and Jacob Browne back at the club. They both have the assets to be a very good National League rugby players and they are both working hard to get themselves in the correct shape to make their case for selection”.
The club has said farewell to three players who have moved onto new pastures. Alex Ward has joined Waterloo as a player coach, centre Jack Akrigg has moved away with work whilst back rower Jack Edwards has joined Blackburn. We wish all three guys the very best and look forward to seeing them back at the Green in the future.