Sheffield Tigers and Preston Grasshoppers prepare for ‘must win’ battle

Sheffield Tigers currently sit bottom of National Two North and 13 points adrift of saftey
©Derek Salisbury

Preston Grasshoppers will travel to Yorkshire this weekend to take on relegation rivals Sheffield Tigers with both sides desperate for a victory.

There is no doubt that this is a ‘must win’ fixture for both sides this Saturday as a defeat for either team could prove fatal to the their chances of staying in National Two North.

The hosts Sheffield Tigers currently sit bottom of the division while Preston Grasshoppers are a place above the men from Dore Moor. Both sides still have a lot of work to do to avoid the drop, but a victory from this fixture could be the catalyst they need to pull off a great escape.

Their fellow relegation rivals Scunthorpe travel to Tynedale this weekend looking to arrest a run of five straight losses while at the right end of the table, Caldy and Sale FC will be hoping to keep their promotion bids on the right path.

Elsewhere in National Two North this Saturday, third placed Sedgley Park are aiming for their fourth straight win when they travel to Harrogate while an in-form Chester side take the trip to Leicester Lions.

The other fixtures in this division this weekend see South Leicester and Hinckley clash in a Midlands derby while Luctonians, buoyed by their win over Preston last weekend, host Otley.

Stourbridge v Caldy

League leaders Caldy go to Stourbridge this weekend looking to take the next step towards the National Two North title. The Wirral-based side have hardly put a foot wrong since their opening day defeat to Sedgley Park back in September and Simon Verbickas’ men head into this fixture with Stourbridge on a 24 match unbeaten run.

Caldy have also won their last 16 games and currently hold a 10-point lead at the top of this division. In addition, they are 29 points clear of third placed Sedgley Park so just two points from their trip to Stourton Park this weekend would be enough for Caldy to secure a top two finish this term.

They may well fancy their chances of gaining maximum points against a Stourbridge side which are in danger of ending this campaign poorly.  Following their excellent home win over Leicester Lions in the middle of January, Neil Mitchell’s side have gone to loss five straight games which has seen a season full of promise fall to pieces.

Having been right in the hunt for a top two finish, the Midlands side must now start building for another promotion push next term and to do that, Stour will need to put a halt to their wretched recent run. The hosts this weekend have won on 10 occasions on their own turf this season and they will be hoping to recapture some of that excellent home form this Saturday.

Sale FC v Wharfedale

It doesn’t matter what test is put in front of Sale FC because they seem to be coming up with all the right answers at this crucial time in the season. The second placed side have made no mistake since the turn of the year and they remain firmly on course to finish in the top two places in what has been a remarkable 12 months for the Manchester-based club.

This time last year, Jonathan Keep’s side were battling to stay in this division but now they could be only three wins away from securing a shot at National One. As things stand, Sale are 18 points clear of third placed Sedgley Park and an 11th straight victory this weekend at home to Wharfedale would take them a step closer to their goal for this term.

Promotion may well have been the aim for Wharfedale at the start of this campaign, but a long list of injuries hampered any chance of the Yorkshire club making an immediate return to National One after relegation from the third tier last summer. Instead, Dale have had to battle against the drop for large parts of this term, but it seems like James Doherty’s side are now out of the dogfight.

Sale beat Wharfedale in the reverse fixture back in November, but since then, Dale have won seven home fixtures in a row which has helped them move out of the bottom three and up to 11th in the table. The Greens are now 14 points clear of the relegation zone, but they now must translate their excellent home form into their away performances. Wharfedale have lost all 11 of their fixtures on the road this term and they will be hoping to upset the odds by breaking their duck on their travels this weekend.

Harrogate v Sedgley Park

Third placed Sedgley Park take the trip to Rudding Lane this weekend to face Harrogate. Sedge’s mixed form since the turn of the year and throughout this campaign has stopped them from finishing in the top two for a second successive season and now Dean Schofield’s men will be keen to end this term on a high as they look to start preparing for the 2017/18 season.

Sedge have found some positivity consistency of late though. The men from Park Lane travel to Yorkshire tomorrow having won their last three matches including a victory over Leicester Lions. The Manchester-based club will want to finish this term in third place and back to back away wins for the first time since September would keep Sedge in control of the bronze medal position.

The hosts Harrogate are currently going through their best spell of form of the season and it has helped them move out of the relegation zone with just six fixtures of this campaign remaining. After such a sluggish first-half of this term, ‘Gate have been able to turn their fortunes around.

As things stand, David Doherty’s side are seven points clear of the drop zone after four wins from their last seven matches. Harrogate have actually lost their last two games which has just halted their progress up the table, but they will itching to clinch their first home victory since the end of January as they look to distance themselves further from danger.

Leicester Lions v Chester

Four defeats in their last seven games has derailed any hopes of a top two finish for Leicester Lions. Damaging away losses against promotion rivals Stourbridge, Sale FC and most recently Sedgley Park means Andy Key’s side will have to settle for another season outside the promotion places, but it is still another campaign full of positives for the Midlands club.

Considering the Lions were battling against relegation two years ago, they have made a vast improvement since then. Last season, they finished in third place and that will be the aim for Leicester this time around as we approach the final five games of the term. Their ambitions of a top three finish were dented last weekend when they lost to Sedgely Park, but they will be hoping to return to winning ways when Chester visit Westleigh Park tomorrow.

Leicester Lions will be aiming for an 11th home win of the campaign, but it will not be a straightforward task for them against a Chester side that sits third in the form table. The Cheshire outfit had a very inconsistent first-half of the campaign, but since the beginning of 2017, Nick Joseph’s men have looked unstoppable and they will fancy gaining a result from their trip to the Midlands this Saturday.

Chester head into this fixture having won seven of their last eight matches which is their best run of form since 2014. As things stand, the men from Hare Lane lie fifth in the table, but they are now only four points behind Sedgley Park so a top three finish is certainly now out of the question for the Cheshire side.

Tynedale v Scunthorpe

It was more away day joy for Tynedale last weekend. After a defeat at Wharfedale, Tyne bounced back to secure a narrow victory on the road against Hinckley which was their seventh triumph on their travels this season. In truth, their performances away from Corbridge this term have helped the north-east club stay in the top half of this table, but now Scott Lawson and his side will be keen to show their qualities at home.

Tyne have won just six times on their own turf this season which is the joint lowest of any side in the top half. In fact, Otley and Wharfedale also have better home records than Tynedale this term but the north-east side will be hoping their recent form can spur them on to another victory at Corbridge. Tyne head into this fixture having won four of their last five games so confidence will be high.

The same cannot be said for their opponents Scunthorpe. The side promoted into this division last summer are struggling for form at this crucial stage of the campaign and they need to halt their recent run of poor results as quickly as possible otherwise it could be an immediate return to National Three for the Lincolnshire side.

The Greens travel north this weekend having won just one of their last eight games and they have also lost their last five matches. Without a win since the middle of January is worrying for Scunthorpe as they sit seven points adrift of safety, but the men from Heslam Park have also not won away from home since October. Their last triumph on their travels came against Harrogate so a third victory on the road this term has to be a necessity for Scunthorpe. 

South Leicester v Hinckley

South Leicester welcome Hinckley to Welford Road for this all Midlands affair aiming to secure their third win on the spin. After a patchy 2017 thus far for South, they have the chance to continue their positive recent form this weekend as they aim to nail down a top eight finish in what has been a superb campaign for Paul Westgate and his side.

Last season, South were flirting with relegation on occasions, but the Midlands outfit have taken the next step forward at this level and they are deservedly on course to finish in the top-half which would be an excellent achievement. They are seven points clear of their opponents Hinckley heading into this clash so a seventh home win of the campaign could well be the decisive result which helps seal a top eight finish for South.

Hinckley won’t mind if they finish outside the top half, but if they were to conclude this season in the top eight it wouldn’t be a surprise. It has been a superb season for Chris Campbell and his side following promotion via the National Three North play-off last May and they have got to be pleased with their campaign.

After a rocky start to life at this level, a run of six straight wins during October and November has been the major factor in why Hinckley have been able to stay clear of danger for the last three months. Currently, they are 24 points clear of the bottom three so just two more wins would be enough to mathematically keep them in this division. In truth, Hinckley are already safe and they head to Welford Road tomorrow in search of their first away victory in just under two months.

Luctonians v Otley

Last weekend, Luctonians found themselves trailing 17-0 to Preston Grasshoppers at half-time and alarm bells may well have started to ring in the away dressing room at Lightfoot Green. However, the Lucts pulled off a sensational comeback to clinch a 24-23 victory and any fears of moving closer to the relegation zone were eased.

In the context of the rest of the season, their win in Lancashire six days ago may well be enough to keep Luctonians in this division. As things stand, Alex Davidson’s side sit 11 points clear of the drop zone as they prepare to welcome Otley to Mortimer Park tomorrow. The Lucts have won two of their last four games and considering they had lost the previous 12 matches, confidence will be high heading into this weekend.

Otley travel to Luctonians tomorrow aiming to improve on their recent form as well as their performances away from home. The Yorkshire side have struggled since the turn of the year picking up just two victories in eight matches, but they have also been desperately poor on their travels all season.

At Cross Green, Otley look like a completely different side. Nine of their 10 wins this term have come at home meaning that they have picked up just one victory on the road since the start of September. Otley currently lie 10th in the table and that is mainly down to their performances in front of their own supporters, but they will aiming to double their tally of away victories tomorrow as they look to finish a tough season on a high.

Sheffield Tigers v Preston Grasshoppers

At this stage of the season, matches can be quite rightly classed as ‘must win’ for sides involved in title races and relegation battles and that aforementioned phrase certainly applies to this clash between Sheffield Tigers and Preston Grasshoppers this weekend.

Both sides occupy the bottom two positions in the table with six games to go and it is the hosts Sheffield Tigers who are currently propping up the division. The side promoted from National Three North last term are 13 points adrift of safety and a sixth victory of the season this weekend is vital otherwise it could well be curtains for the Yorkshire side after just one year at this level.

Two points better off than Sheffield Tigers are Preston Grasshoppers. An excellent victory in their game in hand against Leicester Lions two weeks ago put Gath Dew’s men in a good position to build on that result when they faced Luctonians and when they were 17-0 up against the Herefordshire last week, it seemed as though a revival was clicking into gear for Hoppers.

However, a collapse after half-time saw Preston slip to an agonising and potentially fatal defeat and now the Lancashire side have a mountain to climb. It was also announced this week that Dew along with Director of Rugby Alan Holmes will be departing the club at the end of this season, but both will be determined to fight until the bitter end to keep Hoppers in the fourth-tier of English rugby. A second away triumph of the term could spark another revival for Preston, but a defeat could be the final nail in their coffin.

National League 2 North 2017/18 - Points Table