As usual at this stage of the season, a few local derbies are taking place which could really shape the rest of the campaign for all of the sides involved.
The Leicester derby is certainly one of the standout fixtures with both sides have very strong terms so it should be an intriguing game at Westleigh Park this Saturday. Down at the bottom, it is an all Yorkshire affair as Scunthorpe host Sheffield sides and both teams are desperate for a victory to dig themselves away from trouble.
Elsewhere, league leaders Caldy host Chester looking to extend their unbeaten record to 15 matches while second placed Sale FC will be hoping to stay in second spot and close the gap on the table toppers when they host Hinckley.
Caldy v Chester
League leaders Caldy are guaranteed to be top of the National Two North table at Christmas whatever happens in this fixture against Chester on Saturday. A 13th win of the season against Wharfedale last time out maintained their nine points lead at the summit meaning they cannot be caught between now and the start of January.
They head into this Cheshire derby currently on a 14 match unbeaten run which spans back to the beginning of the season where their only loss of the campaign occurred against Sedgley Park. Caldy are really beginning to take control of this division and a seventh straight home win would surely suggest that the Wirral side have the capabilities to gain automatic promotion to National One.
Chester could well have been in the mix with Caldy and it certainly looked like they were during October. After a difficult start, the men from Hare Lane went on a five game winning streak which saw them surge up the division and into the promotion hunt. However, it seems like they may have regressed and now any hopes of a top two spot are very slender.
Chester travel to Caldy having secured just one win in their last six matches which has seen them drop down to seventh in the table. They would have been frustrated last weekend when they failed to seal a victory against 14-man Sedgley Park, but there were small signs that another recovery could be on the cards for Chester. A win away at the league leaders could certainly be a catalyst for another revival.
Sale FC v Hinckley
Second placed Sale FC will be hoping to stay in the top two heading into the Christmas break and a win at Heywood Road against Hinckley would certainly achieve that. The Manchester-based club have had a remarkable turnaround since fighting off relegation on the final day of last season and to say things are on the up for Sale would be an understatement.
Jonathan Keep’s side have a five point cushion between themselves and third placed Sedgley Park as things stand and that is down to their recent form of four wins from their last five matches. They have also been consistently strong at home this term and welcome Hinckley to the north-west having won seven of their eight matches in front of their own supporters. Another triumph at Heywood Road is top of the agenda this weekend for Sale as they aim to continue their promotion push.
Hinckley Head Coach Chris Campbell said that the Christmas period of fixtures for his side would give him and his team a clearer picture of exactly where they are at since promotion to National Two North in May.
Life at this level didn’t begin well for the Midlands club after just one win in seven matches, but six straight victories lifted them out of the relegation zone. However, their winning run came to an end as they suffered a narrow defeat against Stourbridge and that was followed by another loss as they were edged out by Leicester Lions. Hinckley performed very well in both of those fixtures and they will be hoping to go one step further against another one of the top five sides this weekend.
Sedgley Park v Preston Grasshopppers
Sedgley Park have not been particularly full of Christmas cheer around this time of year over the last couple of seasons. Sedge have always been in the mix for promotion, but some patchy form in the festive period has hindered their ambitions in the past and they’ll be hoping to avoid a similar fate this time around.
A draw with Chester may sound like Sedge are struggling in December once again, but considering they were down to 14-men suggests it was a result which Dean Schofield’s side would have been satisfied with. It now leaves the men from Park Lane five points off the top two, but they will be firm favourites to return to winning ways this weekend. Sedge are unbeaten at home this season and they take on a Preston Grasshoppers side bottom of the division.
They maybe at the foot of the table, but Preston Grasshoppers may feel that their current league standing is not a fair reflection of how they have performed this season. Narrow defeats on numerous occasions is costing them dearly in games, but their have been a lot of positives to take from those disappointing results and Garth Dew’s men need to start converting those plus points into victories.
The Hoppers, who do have a game in hand, are only three points from safety so it certainly isn’t all doom and gloom at Lightfoot Green. This will be a tough task against Sedgley Park when you consider league positions and take into account the fact that the Hoppers have won just one away match all season, but if they were to upset the applecart and double that tally this weekend, it could see them move out of the bottom three.
Stourbridge v Luctonians
Stourbridge currently occupy fourth spot in the National Two North table and that achievement so far this season is based on a superb home record. They welcome the Luctonians to Stourton Park on Saturday having won all eight of their home matches this campaign which has helped them to just about stay in touch with the promotion race.
Stour are eight points off the top two as things stand, but three wins from their last four games shows that they are trying escape their inconsistencies. Their away form hasn’t been great with just two victories coming on the road, but that will take a back seat once again this weekend as Neil Mitchell’s men aim to continue their 100 per cent home record this term.
The Luctonians are desperate for a victory and going to Stourton Park could not have come at a worse time for the Herefordshire club. The Lucts began the season with four wins from their first six games which saw them sitting pretty in the top six of this division but since then, it has all gone downhill for Alex Davidson’s men.
They travel to the Midlands tomorrow having won just one of their last nine matches and they have lost their last five games. It all means that the Luctonians have slipped down to 11th in the table and they are now 10 points clear of the drop zone. Granted, they have had injuries to deal with this term but the Lucts need to put a halt to their slide sooner rather than later otherwise they could find themselves in deep trouble.
Leicester Lions v South Leicester
It’s derby day in Leicester this weekend as two of the top six sides in the division battle it out for local bragging rights at Westleigh Park. Hosts Leicester Lions launched themselves back into the promotion race last Saturday with a hard-fought win over Hinckley and that victory leaves them 10 points behind second placed Sale.
Crucially for the Lions is that they do have a game in hand against Preston Grasshoppers, but to use that to their advantage they must keep securing victories. The home side won on 10 occasions in the first-half of the season with six of those coming on home soil and they will also be looking for a repeat result against their neighbours after securing a 19-18 win at Welford Road back in September.
I don’t think many followers of National Two North would have expected South Leicester to be currently occupying sixth place in the table heading into 2017. Seven wins from their first 15 games has helped them into this position, but 13 bonus-points has played a huge part in South’s positive season to date.
They come into this derby clash just two points behind the Lions and it would be sweet for South if they were to head into the Christmas break not only ahead of their local rivals, but also in the top five of this division. The visitors on Saturday are currently on a three match winning streak and they’ll be looking to extend that by securing their fifth away win of the season tomorrow.
Harrogate v Tynedale
Life at Rudding Lane has been far from rosy for Harrogate this season, but over the last few weeks it has become a place of revival for the Yorkshire side. Prior to their win over Chester in Round 11, ‘Gate had picked up just two wins and were sitting bottom of the division. However, back to back home victories have breathed new life into their season and now they are on the cusp of moving out of the relegation zone.
David Doherty’s men are only in the bottom three on points difference and will now be aiming for a third straight home triumph which could be enough to see them climb out of the bottom of three as we head into the Christmas break. All four of their victories this term have come at home and with increased confidence around Rudding Lane, they might feel win number five can happen this Saturday.
After four straight wins and their best run of results of the season so far, Tynedale suffered their first defeat since Bonfire night last weekend when they were narrowly beaten by fourth placed Stourbridge. The loss for Tyne wasn’t enough to see them drop out of the top-half and they will be keen to return to winning ways this weekend.
The north-east outfit look like they have turned a corner in recent weeks especially on their travels and they make the trip south having picked up two consecutive away victories against Scunthorpe and Sheffield Tigers. Will it be more joy in Yorkshire for Tyne?
Wharfedale v Otley
Thirty miles north-west of Harrogate sees another local derby taking place in National Two North this weekend as Otley travel to the Avenue to take on Wharfedale. The visitors on Saturday had a strong end to the first-half of the season winning four of their last five games which is the consistency which they have craved.
The men from Cross Green now sit ninth, but they will be eager to continue their good form if they are going to progress into the top-half. Key to them achieving this is improving their away record. One win from eight matches has certainly halted their progress considering they have won all seven of their home games, but a victory in their last away outing is certainly a start for Otley. Can they double their successes on the road this weekend?
Just like Harrogate, back to back home wins for Wharfedale has really kick-started what had been a wretched campaign for James Doherty’s side. A long list of injuries didn’t help matters, but after relegation from National One in May, they found themselves in the bottom three midway through November of this year.
However, victories against Scunthorpe and Chester means they are now only in the drop zone on points difference as things stand after a heavy loss to Caldy last weekend. Dale are back at home this weekend looking to end a difficult year on a high and a third successive victory at the Avenue would be the perfect early Christmas gift.
Scunthorpe v Sheffield Tigers
Another all Yorkshire affair is on the agenda in Round 16 as two of the newly-promoted sides battle it out at Heslam Park and both are desperate to head into Christmas with a victory. The hosts Scunthorpe had gone six games without a win, but they ended that awful run of form with a crucial victory over the Luctonians last weekend on home soil.
Their fourth home win of the campaign saw the Greens move out of the relegation zone and now they are sitting two points clear of the drop as we begin the second-half of this campaign. Four of their five wins this term have come at Heslam Park so Scunthorpe will be keen to add to that this weekend and pull off another vital victory against a relegation rival.
After eight rounds, we probably wouldn’t have described Sheffield Tigers as ‘relegation rivals’. It was a solid start to life in National Two North for the men from Dore Moor but since the end of October, The Tigers seem to have lost their roar.
They take the trip to Scunthorpe this weekend having lost their last seven matches which has seen them fall to 13th place and Sheffield are only outside the relegation places on points difference. In fact, there is only one point keeping their heads above water as their PD reads -134 while Harrogate’s is -135. The Tigers have had such a successful year of rugby up until the last couple of months so they will be itching to end 2016 on a high by earning their fifth win of the campaign.