Preparations for the new season continue apace as we build up to tonight’s opening pre-season round robin fixtures against Sale FC and Sale Jets.
As in any pre-season there have been changes to the playing squad with the “ins” and “outs” detailed below.
Ollie Carter – Fly half/centre (Vale of Lune)
Reece Tomlinson – 2nd Row (Kendal)
Dan White – 2nd Row/Back Row (RL)
Luke Clitheroe – Back Row (Fylde Hawks)
John Embleton – Full Back (unattached)
Billy Woof – Centre (Birkenhead Park)
Reg Whittam – Centre (unattached)
Sean Taylor – Ballymena/Ulster Ravens
Sam Wallbank – Vale of Lune
Craig Aikman – Retired
Chris Gale – Emigrated
Dave Perry – (Taken role as clubs Strength & Conditioning Coach)
The website spoke to Director of Rugby Gareth Dyer about the changes to the playing personnel and his thoughts on the squad taking shape.
Q: So Gareth, it sounds like a busy summer for you with a new coaching set up to bed in and a number of changes to the playing squad?
GD: “Yes there has been a lot to cover since the end of the last campaign. In terms of recruitment, the summer off season gets busier and busier each year as we look to build a squad capable of competing for honours in National 2 North. It’s been a rewarding and frustrating few months in equal manner with a number of exciting new players already training with the squad whilst we have also had to say goodbye to some very good players. We have spoken to a number of possible additions to the squad over the summer and despite a lot of hard work it has been frustrating to get close to signing those targets only to miss out on their signatures for reasons outside of our control.
Q: So overall are you content with the composition of the squad that is taking shape?
GD: What is pleasing is that we have added strength to those parts of the squad where we felt we were short of competition/depth last season. The additions of Tomlinson, White and Clitheroe bring more size and power to the back five of the scrum and that was certainly an area where we needed “beefing up”. Losing Sam (Wallbank) is a blow as he had a good first season at this level and I expected him to push on this year but a change in his work commitments make it impossible for him to commit to training and travelling and with reluctance we have had to release him. Despite the loss of Sam I expect us to be a more physical pack this year and we certainly won’t be an easy target for those teams who have sought to physically dominate us in recent seasons. The battle for selection in the midfield area is going to be intense and it will be interesting to see which combinations start to gel during the pre-season fixtures.
Q: Are you still looking to add to the squad?
GD: We are always looking at ways to improve the squad. These aren’t always through the addition of new faces but I wouldn’t be fulfilling my role if I didn’t continue to explore all possible options. The recruitment process is always “on-going”. To support the coaches I would still like to add some more competition in a couple of areas. Ideally another body able to play in the back five of the scrum would mean we would have some real depth in that area and for variety it would be useful to add to our options wider out.
Q: There has always been a strong ethos of developing home grown players and giving youngsters the opportunity to play National League rugby. No doubt this will continue to be the case?
GD: Yes of course we will continue to bring players through. One benefit of our injury issues last season was the emergence of a number of young players who showed that they were comfortable at this level. The challenge now for those guys is to nail down a regular starting place during the coming campaign. I’m expecting the likes of Will Lees, Tom Hurst, Ollie Yates, Conor Trueman, Sam Kendall and Anthony Elliott to really make a push to nail down positions in the side but there are a number of young players who can force their way into the side if they work hard. As Garth said in The Rugby Paper at the weekend, we have young lads coming through and it’s now up to them to take their chances and push on”.
Below we provide some further information on the new recruits to the squad together with Gareth’s comments on their signings.
Reece Tomlinson (2nd Row)
Reece joins Hoppers from Kendal where he has played all of his senior rugby to date. A regular in the Cumbria County side he will bring height (6’6’’) and power (18 stone) to Hoppers pack. He guested for the club on Good Friday and has been a target for the Hoppers for a number of seasons after impressing in opposition during Kendal’s National 2 days. “Reece brings a big physical presence adding power and aggression to the front five. He’s stayed loyal to Kendal during their recent difficult times but with the club having now steadied he felt it was time to move back up to play at National league level. I admired his reasons for staying at the Mint Bridge when we’ve tried to sign him previously but he goes with the blessing of the Black and Ambers and I’m sure he will become a popular figure amongst the Hoppers faithful”.
Dan White (2nd Row/Back Row)
Dan joins Hoppers after a number of years of us chasing his signature. A target for Dave Baldwin during his time as Head Coach, he now makes the move to Lightfoot Green after spells at Kendal, Randwick (Sydney, Australia) and a short time with Hawcoat Park in his native Barrow after a stint in rugby league. Equally at home in the second row or in the back row, at 6’5’’ and over 17 stone he will bring more size to the back five of the Hoppers scrum. “Dan came to our attention a few years ago as a youngster and when Dave was here we tried to get him to the club. I’m delighted our patience has been rewarded and that Dan is now in a position to make the switch. He will bring a big carrying game and physicality to the forwards”.
Luke Clitheroe (Back Row)
Luke makes the journey down the M55 in pursuit of regular 1st XV rugby. An openside by trade but able to play on both flanks, Luke offers pace around the park and strength over the ball at the breakdown. A strong physical presence he will increase the level of competition amongst the back row options at the coaches disposal. “Luke has impressed in pre-season with his fitness levels and pace around the paddock. His arrival will really intensify competition in the back row and it’s going to be a real battle for those starting places for the opening league game on the 6th September”.
Ollie Carter (fly half/centre)
Ollie comes to Lightfoot Green from the Vale where he has played since his mini junior days. A cultured fly half or centre, he also had a couple of years playing for Cardiff Met (UWIC) in the Welsh Championship whilst studying in the Welsh capital. A proven goal kicker he guested for Hoppers in the Good Friday game with Fylde and made a big impression. “Ollie can play in a number of positions and will be able to add a lot to our approach. He’s got a good passing game and a mature head for decision making. He can also mix his game and bring a physical presence in midfield if required”.
John Embleton (Full Back)
John joins Hoppers after a period out of the game. As a youngster he played for Fylde but has National One experience after several seasons in the North East with Blaydon. A good footballer and goal kicker, John will compete for the full back position vacated by the departing Sean Taylor. “John will bring a different dimension to our back three. An astute footballer he reads the game well and has the pedigree to be a top performer for the club. He’s had a period out of the game so will need time to get his match instincts back, but I’m sure he will quickly prove to be a great asset to the squad”.
Billy Woof (Fly-Half/Centre)
Equally at home at fly half, Billy comes to Lightfoot Green from Birkenhead Park. Previously at Caldy and a product of Myerscough College, he has strong footballing ability that has impressed during pre-season. “Billy came in for pre-season to have a look at the club and it was quickly clear that he has the ability to challenge for a starting spot. He has shown excellent fitness and skill levels and his versatility offers the coaches some real options in an area where competition is building strongly”.
Reg Whittam (Centre)
Rob returns to the game after a period of recuperation from injury. Now fully recovered, he resumes a National League career that saw him take in several seasons for Hull Ionians. A strong running centre, he will offer more competition in the midfield and will look to get back his match sharpness quickly. “Reggie is a powerful centre who provides a physical presence in the midfield. He has trained strongly during the summer and we are keen that he gains match fitness in the pre-season fixtures so that he can challenge strongly for a starting place in an area where competition for the shirt is building”.