Preston Grasshoppers vs. Stourbridge
Stourbridge will be the last but one league visitors to Lightfoot Green this season and after losing their long unbeaten run, Hoppers will be looking to record their fourth double of the season this coming Saturday.
Hoppers and their supporters left Brantingham Park last Saturday with a certain amount of pride with the visitors performance against the current league leaders and a team battling to regain their place in National 1 next season. Denying the Ionians a four try bonus point was a big plus but an even larger one was the way they dictated the final quarter, with Tom Davidson’s injury time long range penalty strike giving them a well deserved bonus point. Preston Grasshoppers can take pride in collecting six points against four and accumulating forty four points scored to twenty nine against Hull Ionians this season. The 1869 Club members certainly enjoyed their day out and the organisers are proud to say they’ve managed to run coaches to ten of the fourteen away games to date. There will be a notice going up for the final one at South Leicester on the 13th of April and it’s hoped that enough names will appear to make the trip viable.
This Saturday’s visitors are currently lying three places and eleven points behind Hoppers and are having a rather erratic end to the season, winning comfortably one week then losing heavily the next. Their games are certainly generating plenty of points and hopefully the latest meeting between the two clubs will be no exception!
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 the National 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 a couple of seasons later in what was to prove Hoppers final season at that level and until relegation at the end of the season back in 2012, the Midlands outfit had maintained Level 3 status.
The all time playing record between next week’s opponents has Stourbridge having won eighteen matches to Hoppers fourteen and the League record tells a similar but rather closer story of thirteen victories to Hoppers and fifteen 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, which until a few seasons ago was their biggest winning margin over Hoppers whilst a thirty two points to three victory in their promotion season was the Hoppers best effort.
If selected, centre Sam Stott will make his 50th appearance for Preston Grasshoppers this Saturday
With the current season’s end just a few games away, here’s the current position and a few thoughts regarding next season’s set up of National 2 North.
With just three games left the relegation places from our league look all but settled with Peterborough Lions, Macclesfield and South Leicester making the drop to level 4. The automatic promotion spot from N2N is still unclear with Hull Ionians and Chester currently level on 99 points needing just four more to make them uncatchable by the chasing pack.
Esher (50), Loughborough Students (51) and Caldy (52) look doomed for the drop from National 1 with almost everyone in the bottom group regularly picking up wins making it difficult for them to catch up.
A look at the Midlands and Northern Premier Leagues with just two games remaining and we see that Hull are already promoted from the Northern section with one of Blaydon (90) or Harrogate (89) looking to be favourites for the play off game especially as Billingham (85) lost ground last Saturday.
The Midlands league looks to be a three way battle for top spot and play off place between Scunthorpe (93), Luctonians (91) and Newport (Salop) (85), similarly with just two games to play. Looking at the forthcoming fixtures, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Luctonians returning to the national leagues at the first attempt.
My thoughts are that Hull Ionians will be automatically promoted, especially as Chester have to visit Lightfoot Green on the last Saturday of the season with, as is traditional in recent seasons, the Southern side winning the play-off game. Our bottom three are already set for the drop unless there’s something of a miraculous recovery by Macclesfield or South Leicester. Hull are already promoted and I think Luctonians will grab a dramatic promotion spot after Scunthorpe have led for most if not all season. As for the play-off game, Blaydon currently hold the points advantage and look to have the easiest run-in whilst in the Midlands giving them a trip to Scunthorpe to decide who gets promoted.
So, pulling that together it looks like we lose four clubs and gain Hull, Luctonians, Scunthorpe or Blaydon, Loughborough Students and probably Caldy. This gives an imbalance where ‘Level Transfer’ comes into play and the Midlands side with the lowest aggregate mileage travelling to the other clubs in the Southern section make the move….unless someone volunteers to move……or the Northern side wins the play-off???
For those who didn’t solve the little puzzle from the Hinckley preview, here are the names of our hyphenated league players. Ryan Birchall-Feeney – 2015/16. Nick Chancellor-Weale 2002/03. Alex Zavallis-Roebuck 2008-2017. Mike Walker-Fitton 2007/08. and most recent Matt Danson-Hayes – 2018/19. The more observant of our readers will notice there are now five rather than the four asked for in the programme, this is due to an in depth search by ‘JP’!
Hoppers lineup sees Dan Madden come in at loosehead in place of the injured Ryan Purcell. Conor Trueman and Sam Stott come in on the wings in place of the injured Marr Crow and Scott Jordan with Tyler Spence moving to fullback. The bench sees Harry Holden in line for his 1st XV debut alongside Head Coach Paul Arnold who will play his last game before retiring from playing. Make sure you check the website on Friday as we look back over Paul’s career.
1. Dan MADDEN
2. PJ MILLEA (C)
3. Peter ALTHAM
4. Adam HOWARD
5. Luke PROCTER
6. Ally MURRAY
7. Ryan CARLSON
8. Matt LAMPREY
9. James GOUGH
10. Thomas DAVIDSON
11. Sam STOTT
12. James FITZPATRICK
13. Alex HURST
14. Conor TRUEMAN
15. Tyler SPENCE
16. Noah MILLER
17. Harry HOLDEN
18. Oli TRIPPIER
19. Paul ARNOLD
20. Will DAVIDSON