Preston Grasshoppers vs. Darlington Mowden Park – KO 2.30pm
Hoppers start their National 2 North League campaign on Saturday with a welcome return to Lightfoot Green for last years National North 3 Champions from the North East.
As expected Michael Lough’s team for Saturday shows a number of additions to the squad which defeated National 1 Tynedale in the monsoon last Saturday.
1. Andy Irving, 2. Alan Holmes, 3. Richard Morton, 4. Gareth Gore, 5. Wayne Steel, 6. Ally Murray, 7. Kilian Wallace, 8. Dominic Moon, Captain. 9. Josh Purnell, 10. Sean Long, 11. Adam Birchall, 12. Jack Ward, 13. Karl Fitzpatrick, 14. Phil Baines, 15. Sean Taylor.
Replacements: 16. Phil Mills, 17. Matt Hughes, 18. Sam Kindred, 19. Will Keenan, 20. Chris Gale.
It will be hoped the home club can begin the season in similar form to the way it ended last term, which culminated with the thrashing of already crowned Champions Loughborough Students. As is usual during the transition of seasons, players come and players go and the summer of 2012 hasn’t been any different for Hoppers. Matt Charters has moved to Tynedale, Mark Edwards to our nearest rivals in this league Stockport, Tom Smith has moved to Lymm, Mark Irving has moved to Ireland to play rugby and it is reported Nathan Fowles will move up to Level 3 rugby playing for Fylde at his parent club Sale Sharks request. Chris Lowden has taken a coaching position at Blackburn. Everyone at Preston Grasshoppers wish all these guys a successful future.
Perhaps to most significant change at Hoppers during the summer has seen Head Coach Dave Baldwin accept the offer of Forwards Coach across on the ‘dark side’ at Leeds Carnegie. Once again, everyone at Lightfoot Green wishes Dave all the very best in his new post. Dave’s departure gave the club the opportunity to offer last seasons successful backs and 2nd XV coach Michael Lough the chance to head up an impressive coaching line-up.
Fixtures between Hoppers and Mowden Park first started comparatively recently in the 2002/3 season when the clubs met on three occasions with Mowden Park winning the two league matches plus a very close run cup tie by two points out of a total of seventy eight scored on the day. It wasn’t until the end of the 2004/5 season that Hoppers finally achieved a victory after six failed attempts with a sixty five points to thirty eight home win. There have been a total of thirteen matches between the two clubs with this week’s visitors having the upper hand with nine victories against just two by Hoppers plus two drawn games.
The last meeting between the two clubs was four seasons ago ending in a disappointing away defeat for Hoppers in a rearranged game at the end of the season which wasn’t enough to stop the home team being relegated. So after a three season break, Mowden Park return to Level 4 rugby being crowned Champions well before the end of last season.
Saturday’s visitors started their preparations for this season with an impressive forty six points to nil home victory over Bradford and Bingley on the 11th of August at Yiewsley Drive before visiting Old Albanians the following Saturday where they suffered a thirty six points to nineteen reverse. A midweek cup tie against fellow North Easterners West Hartlepool gave them a narrow victory in a foreshortened game due to serious injury to one of ‘West’s’ players. This ended their pre-season preparations as their planned trip to newly relegated Harrogate had to be cancelled due to injuries and unavailability on a Bank Holiday weekend.
Hoppers preparations, whilst somewhat dampened by the usual Bank Holiday weather and unavailability’s, was a victory over National 1 Tynedale by seventeen points to ten in a game where the weather was the ultimate winner. However a win under new coach Mike Lough’s belt will only lift the teams enthusiasm for the new season.