Stourbridge vs. Preston Grasshoppers – Kick Off 3.00pm
Hoppers travel to top of the table Stourbridge with a strong looking and settled team which includes the return of Andy Napier who was in tremendous form before being injured at Bromsgrove. Although victory for the visitors at Stourton Park will no doubt be a difficult task, Hoppers can take some encouragement in the fact that they have a better record over the last nine games than the home club, losing just once to Stourbridge’s four defeats. This has given a consistent Hull Ionians an outside chance of pipping them for top spot at the end of the season.
With the exception of Gareth Gore returning to his regular spot in the second row Hoppers will start as selected for the last weeks game against Otley.
Along with Andy Napier, Josh Purnell takes a seat on the bench with the remainder as last week.
1. Richard Morton,2. Phil Mills, 3. Andy Irving, 4. Ali Murray, 5. Gareth Gore, 6. Will Keenan, 7. Killian Wallace, 8. Dominic Moon. Captain, 9. Craig Aikman,10. Lewis Allen,11. Phil Baines, 12. Jack Ward, 13. Michael Haley, 14. Matt Hughes, 15. Sean Taylor.
Replacements: 16. Brad Tuff, 17. Danny Madden, 18. Andy Napier, 19. Karl Fitzpatrick, 20. Josh Purnell.
With the tremendous Lancashire Cup victory over Fylde at the Woodlands on Easter Monday which included Matt Hughes’ fiftieth try for Hoppers (ironically against his old club) still fresh in the mind plus getting back on track in the league with a nail biting victory over Otley last Saturday, Hoppers now face a very stiff challenge with a trip to top of the table Stourbridge.
Things are looking rather different at the head of the league since our last meeting with Stourbridge at Lightfoot Green back in December. At that stage some of the Stourton outfit’s supporters were anticipating a season free of defeats while there were some thinking they may go right through to May collecting five points in every game and conceding none.
While Hoppers did there best to upset the apple cart, a fifteen man push over try deep into injury time snatched the four try bonus point for the visitors but not before the home side had secured their own and gained the achievement of being the first team to do so against the visitors.
Stourbridge’s unbeaten run came to an abrupt halt however in mid January when a hyped up Bromsgrove upset the form book with an unexpected away victory.
Since that defeat, things have become very tight at the top of the table with Stourbridge losing three more and Ionians going on a long unbeaten run since their defeat at the hands of Stourbridge back in November. After losing last Saturday’s encounter at the hands of closest rivals Hull Ionians, Stourbridge are just four points ahead but the East Ridings team have a game in hand and more victories than their Midlands rivals. With just a handful of games left for both teams it’s going to go to the wire, that’s for sure!
Meetings between Hoppers and Stourbridge go back to the 24th of November 1973 in our very first term here 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).
It was Hoppers and Stourbridge who occupied the top two places when we last visited Stourton Park, although not that close to the end of the season when a victory for the visitors pulled them further away from second placed Stourbridge. Come the end of the 1998/99 season, victory at Sandal secured promotion for Preston Grasshoppers with Stourbridge still breathing down their necks hoping for a slip.
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. Michael Lough was once again the scourge of the home side adding a couple more tries to the one scored in the last minute at Lightfoot Green earlier in the season. Chris Dew’s side lined up with an unchanged fifteen from the previous weeks impressive victory over Nuneaton but with an old face looking to break into the starting line up once again at Hoppers after an eighteen month absence ‘Down-under’ in the shape of Glyn Dewhurst. In addition to Luffy’s brace, Monny also crossed for a try and ‘Ocko’ was his usual inconsistent self, hitting the target with as many goals as he missed! Amongst the home sides scorers that day were prop Simon Baylie and full back Jonathan Williams.
A look at Hoppers team from that game at Stourton Park sees a number of players still associated with the club and others who make regular visits. Current Head Coach Michael Lough wore the number ten shirt that day with ‘Chessy’ playing in his familiar inside centre position. Chairman of Rugby Michael ‘Bill’ Bailey locked the pack alongside the legendary Josh Williams and Neil Ashton Number 8. Brother Ian was on the bench that day together with Glyn Dewhurst and ‘Chaddy’. Others who took part in the game and are still members or regular visitors to the club include Mike Sword, Iain Bruce and Gary Monaghan.
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 last season’s relegation the Midlands outfit had maintained Level 3 status.
The all time playing record between next week’s opponents couldn’t be closer with each side having won eleven matches each and the league record telling a similar story with nine victories apiece. This record includes a forty four points to nineteen Powergen Cup victory to Stourbridge during the 1995/6 season at Lightfoot Green, their biggest winning margin over Hoppers whilst a thirty two points to three victory in their promotion season also in Preston was the Hoppers best effort.
It’s back to Friday night action once again at Lightfoot Green this week when Sedgley Park seconds are the visitors with a 7.45 kick off time. On Saturday Hoppers 3’s entertain Bolton 2’s while the fourth team play Sale thirds.