Preston Grasshoppers vs. Sheffield Tigers – Kick Off 2.30pm
With Will Keenan, Karl Fitzpatrick, Alan Holmes and Skipper Moon returning from injury, coach Michael Lough has a larger squad to choose from this weekend.
Oga Mabaya and Alex Austin get a turn on the bench which sees Josh Purnell dropping down for the returning ‘Fitz’ while Chris Gale makes a move in the other direction.
1. Andy Irving, 2. Alan Holmes, 3. Chris Gale, 4. Gareth Gore, 5. Ali Murray, 6. Conor Murphy,7. Will Keenan,8. Dominic Moon, Captain.9. Sam Kindred. 10. Karl Fitzpatrick, 11. Matt Hughes, 12. Jack Ward, 13. Phil Baines, 14. Adam Birchall, 15. Sean Taylor.
Replacements: 16. Brad Tuff, 17. Josh Purnell, 18. Eddie Webster, 19. Oga Mabaya 20. Alex Austin.
The Tigers start off the second half of the season at Lightfoot Green this coming Saturday and Hoppers will be intent on reversing the result at Dore Moor back in September. Hoppers looked set to make it two wins from two outings at the start of the season when they started like a runaway train in opening up a seventeen point lead. However, Sheffield had other ideas and gradually edged their way back into the game. A drive for the line deep into injury time at the end of the game looked likely to provide the winning score for the visitors but a spot of mishandling proved decisive and all the visitors had to show for their efforts was a losing bonus point even though they’d outscored the home side three tries to two.
That win started an nine match unbeaten run for the Yorkshire side but like Hoppers they’ve stuttered in recent weeks losing their last five, away at Leicester Lions, Otley and last week at Hull plus home defeats at the hands of Stourbridge and Darlington Mowden Park.
Hoppers will want to get back to winning ways after three consecutive reverses, the latest at Leicester Lions where they failed to cross the line for a try, the first time since back in January at Westoe. The last time Hoppers lost three League games on the trot were the last two of the 2010/11 season and the first of 2011/12 at Loughborough Students before a home victory over Caldy ended a run of nine consecutive League defeats.
This is Sheffield’s second season at Level 4 into which they’ve made a decent fist of things, currently sitting in the top third of the league and finishing last term in a comfortable mid table position.
With the season at its half way point, this is a good time to take a look around ours and the other leagues and how next season in National 2 North might shape up.
Stourbridge look nailed on for promotion in N2N whilst Henley, Hartpury College, Worthing and Redruth are grouped together at the top of N2S. Play off contenders from our section look likely emerge from Ionians, Hoppers or Mowden Park but there’s still half the season to play and anything can happen.
Relegation from our league looks likely to be fought out between Huddersfield, Stockport and Westoe who currently sit in the dreaded positions with the first two already looking doomed although Huddersfield’s win at Luctonians last Saturday might have signalled a revival. If they’re not careful Birmingham Solihull could be dragged into the dogfight if as is usual the end of the season sees a sudden change of form at the foot of the table amongst some of those apparently already doomed.
Interesting times ahead for the Teeside area, a new ground and massive cash injection into Darlington Mowden Park’s coffers with plenty of questions still to be answered such as if they’ll use the cash to promote themselves above Blaydon and Tynedale in the North East and what a 25,000 capacity stadium will sound like with the just 150 or so spectators currently attending Yiewsley Drive for home games.
A look at the bottom of National 1 at the moment shows both Macclesfield and Sedgley Park being cut adrift and looking favourites to be visiting Lightfoot Green next season.
The top of National 3N has Chester with an eleven point lead over last years relegated Harrogate but sadly a look at the bottom sees Kendal set for relegation once again, being thirteen points from safety at this the mid season stage.
N3M has Sutton Coldfield leading the way with Amptill in the play off spot. Last seasons relegated Nuneaton, like Harrogate in the northern section are handily placed in third spot but both sides have suffered recent losses after a winning start to the season.
With no other league games being played at Lightfoot Green this Saturday it’s down to Hoppers U.24’s versus their Vale of Lune counterparts to provide the entertainment after the main course, a game which kicks off at 4.30 pm.
Just a reminder to support Billy Johnston’s Boxing Day Testimonial fixture which kicks off at 1pm for anyone looking for some fresh air and an alternative to turkey sandwiches!
With Hoppers next two fixtures being on the road over in Hull, the next home game will be against Westoe on the 19th of January.
Photograph courtesy of Mike Craig.
I hope everyone has an enjoyable Christmas and can look forward to a prosperous New Year.