Preston Grasshoppers vs. Stourbridge – Kick Off 2.30pm
Hoppers squad for Saturday has just two inclusions from the twenty that travelled to Leicester Lions last Saturday in the shape of Cypriot International Zav Roebuck at stand off and Joab Murphy locking the scrum.
The front row is shuffled as Mo Mustafa starts with Tom McGuinness taking a turn on the bench, and in the backs, Phil Baines and Adam Birchall return to their more familiar roles at centre and wing.
1 Mo Mustafa, 2 Alan Holmes, 3 Pete Altham, 4 Ally Murray, 5 Joab Murphy, 6 Sam Wallbank, 7 Eddie Webster, 8 Dominic Moon (Captain),9 Craig Aikman, 10 Zav Roebuck, 11 Sam Kendall,12 Jack Ward, 13 Phil Baines,14 Adam Birchall, 15 Sean Taylor.
16 Andy Irving, 17 Brad Tuff, 18 Will Lees, 19 Tom McGuinness, 20 Sam Whyte.
Stourbridge have selected as follows;
1 Mark George, (Captain), 2 Scott Wright, 3 Mike Hill, 4 Ben Hughes, 5 Ciaran Moore, 6 Nigel Mukarati, 7 Ejike Uzogiwe, 8 Chris Depper, 9 Pete White, 10 Sam Robinson, 11 Jamie Hearn, 12 Ben Barkley, 13 Stefan Shillingford, 14 Nathan Bressington, 15 Matthew Farrington.
Tom Jarvis, Sione Tuipuluto, Garry Dipple, Tom May, Dale Garner, Robbie Hurrell, James Rodley, Drew Harper.
Hoppers worrying run of defeats was extended to six last Saturday at Westleigh Park where the only crumb of comfort came from the fact that no further serious injuries were picked up, but it was a strange sight observing more bodies inside the pitch barriers than outside which included a fair number of Hoppers supporters.
Hoppers coaching staff will be hoping the long list of absentees will be shortened in time for what will be a tough encounter against Stourbridge, the signs of which are promising with a couple of players back in full training and others available for selection once again in the near future.
Although they gave last season’s runners up a few frights both home and away, Hoppers fell short of victory on both occasions and after a fairly even first forty at Stourton Park back in October, the home side eventually ran out comfortable winners.
Stourbridge fell just short of promotion last season, and after looking a certainty for National 1 until their defeats at the hands of Hull Ionians and Mowden Park near the end of the season, had to settle for a home play-off against National 2 South Worthing. After looking like winning the game, a late twist of fate meant Level 4 rugby was on the menu for a another season at Stourton Park.
Our hosts have even more competition at the top of the table this season, currently sitting in third place behind Darlington Mowden Park and Macclesfield and with last Saturday’s victory by Sedgley Park at Priory Park, the group of four are closely bunched at the top of the table, just ten points separating all four.
Meetings between Hoppers and Stourbridge go back to the 24th of November 1973 in our very first season at Lightfoot Green. Hoppers ran out narrow winners that day by six points to three, before the return fixture at Stourton two seasons later when the home side recorded a comfortable victory.
The next meeting was the day after the annual Fylde Boxing Day match in 1986, the season before leagues were formed and both Hoppers and Stourbridge started their respective journey into league rugby together at level 4 in what was then titled the Courage Area League (North).
The two clubs had stayed partners at this level until Hoppers promotion, a season when Stourbridge together with New Brighton and Kendal (who were promoted the following season) were Hoppers main challengers throughout with a January twenty five points to ten victory at Stourton Park probably being the deciding factor.
Stourbridge finally gained promotion to what was then National 2 two seasons later in what was to prove Hoppers final season at that level and until relegation two seasons ago, the Midlands outfit had maintained Level 3 status.
The all time playing record between next week’s opponents couldn’t be much closer with the visitors showing a slight advantage having won thirteen matches to Hoppers eleven. The league record tells a similar story with nine victories to Hoppers and eleven to Stourbridge. The overall record includes a forty four points to nineteen Powergen Cup victory to Stourbridge during the 1995/6 season at Lightfoot Green, just short of last October’s biggest winning margin over Hoppers, whilst a thirty two points to three victory in their promotion season at Lightfoot Green was the Grasshoppers best effort.
It’s Cup weekend this coming Saturday for all other Hoppers senior men’s sides, the full list of the fixtures is as follows;
Hoppers 2 vs. Sedgley Park 2 ‘Cup’ (Home)
Hoppers 3 vs. Rossendale 2 ‘Jug’ (Away)
Hoppers 4 vs. Bury 2 ‘Bowl’ (Home)
Hoppers 5 vs. Blackburn 3 ‘Shield’ (Home)
Hoppers 6 vs. Vale of Lune 4 ‘Plate’ (Away)
Hoppers Women vs. Altrincham Kersal (Away) – Sunday
Photograph by kind permission of Mike Craig.