Preston Grasshoppers vs. Sheffield Tigers – Kick Off 2.30pm
Hoppers starting line up this week sees seven changes from the side that lost last week at Westoe. An all new front row sees Alan Holmes hooking between the two Irving brothers, Andy and Mark. Ally Murray comes into the second row in the place of the injured Alex Austin.
Nathan Fowles returns at scrum half in place of Mark Edwards who moves to the bench. Sean Long is available and slots in at centre with Phil Baines moving to the wing. Colt Antony Elliot makes his second start on the wing after impressing from the bench last week. Matt Hughes and Matt Gargett are both unavailable through injury.
15. Sean Taylor, 14. Phil Baines, 13. Sean Long, 12. Jack Ward, 11. Antony Elliot, 10. Graham Holroyd, 9. Nathan Fowles, 1. Andy Irving, 2. Alan Holmes, 3. Mark Irving, 4. Ally Murray, 5. Wayne Steel, 6. Connor Murphy, 7. Kilian Wallace, 8. Dominic Moon
Subs: 16. Phil Mills, 17. Chris Gale, 18. Matt Charters, 19. Will Keenan, 20. Mark Edwards
Another team make their first ever visit to Lightfoot Green next Saturday when Sheffield Tigers make a debut appearance. The visitors will be buoyant after last weeks narrow home win over Nuneaton and Hoppers will be looking to get back to winning ways after the heavy defeat at the hands of highflying Westoe.
A look at the table shows all three promoted teams sitting together in mid table, which indicates that they have all settled well at Level four of the rugby leagues system.
Unlike our last visitors Bromsgrove, the Tigers have faired rather better on their travels, winning three of their nine league fixtures away from Dore Moor. With wins at Kendal, Stockport and Hull under their belt, they are a team to be reckoned with.
With the season entering its final third, thoughts start to turn to who will be playing in this league next season. The bottom of National 2 North is re-shuffled after each weekend’s set of results. Kendal currently sit in the unenviable bottom spot but are only two points behind Otley who won for the first time since the end of October at Mint Bridge last weekend, and are currently fifth from bottom. So as well as those two, Ionians, Harrogate (our next opponents) and Leicester Lions are also battling for survival. Nuneaton are eight points clear of this group and wouldn’t seem to be in danger of getting sucked into the dogfight.
At the other end of the league, the Students appear to be odds on favourites for the League title with those behind them unable to mount a serious challenge. The fight for a play-off spot is a different story though with our opponents from last week Westoe currently holding that position. Huddersfield, Caldy, Luctonians and even ourselves are the others in the mix. My guess is it will be between Huddersfield and Westoe although things might be a little clearer after Huddersfield visit Westoe in a month’s time. Who will meet the eventual runners up from our division from N2S is no clearer than in our league. Richmond currently sit in top spot and any one of four trailing them, Old Albanians, Worthing, Henley and Hartpury College could make the play-off spot.
The other thought is who will be the newcomers to N2N next season. A look at the league above shows it to be looking a little more defined than the position in our league with Stourbridge who are third from bottom, eleven points behind the next club. One place below them are Birmingham Solihull, so a visit to their new home looks to be on the cards next season together with renewing rivalry with Stourbridge who Hoppers have had many a close encounter with in the past.
Darlington Mowden Park look nailed on for promotion from N3N and Rossendale currently occupy the play-off spot so a local derby could be on the cards? The N3M table has Rugby Lions way out in front, and the play-off spot looks to be between Dudley Kingswinford and South Leicester.
We’ll have another look at the relevant league tables in a few weeks time, but only once the season has ended, the play-offs played out and the dust has settled will we know the outcome of 2011/12, and hopefully, Hoppers will have had a more successful season than in recent years.
Other games being played at Lightfoot Green this Saturday.
Hoppers 5ths vs. Keswick 2
Hoppers 6ths vs. Colne & Nelson 2