New Year brings new hopes for National Two North sides

Stourbridge will be looking to push on after an excellent first half of the season
©Ceri Davies

Macclesfield begin the New Year on top of National Two North having lost just two matches in the first half of the season while Sedgley Park aim to try and claw back a 12 point deficit.

Below, Stourbridge, Caldy, Sandal and Otley are all fighting it out for third spot while the race for survival is beginning to hot up.

Caldy v Macclesfield

Macclesfield have been in fantastic form this season. The Blues were relegated from National One last term but have not let that affect them as they appear to be firmly on course for an immediate return to the third tier of English rugby.

Their first real challenge came against Sedgley Park at the start of December where Macc were finally beaten in the league for the first time since the opening day of the season but since then, they have shown signs of a championship winning team after solid wins over Chester and Sale FC.

Now Giles Heagerty’s men must regain that focus at the start of 2016 as they look to extend their 12 point lead at the top of National Two North.

Caldy looked stronger towards the end of 2015. The Wirral side won their last two games of the year after going on a five match winless run and it seems that they have turned things around as they sit in fourth place.

Those victories over Chester and Huddersfield seems to have instilled some much needed confidence in the Caldy players and they will be looking to make it three home wins in a row when Macc take the trip to Paton Field this weekend.

Sedgley Park v South Leicester

It isn’t a surprise to see Sedgley Park in the promotion mix at the halfway point of the season. They have once again built a strong and hungry squad and they currently sit second in the table as they go in search of promotion this season.

Recent wins against Chester and Sale FC gave Sedgley confidence that they could close the gap at the top and their win against Macclesfield seemed to reignite the title race.

But, with a postponement against Caldy and a defeat against Preston Grasshoppers towards the end of the year, Sedge are now 12 points behind the leaders and will begin chasing down Macclesfield this weekend.

In terms of South, they are enjoying a solid season. Despite four straight defeats in the final few games before the Christmas break, the men from Welford Road did pick up a derby day win over Leicester Lions which leaves them 12th in the table despite being one of the sides tipped for relegation back to National Three Midlands at the start of the campaign.

That win over Leicester Lions will have boosted  their confidence as they are now seven points clear of the drop zone and they will be hoping for another upset this weekend away at Park Lane.

Stourbridge v Sandal

Stourbridge are enjoying a fine season thus far. With nine wins to their name, Stour currently occupy a top three place and they will be pleased not only with the team’s performance, but the way they have responded from a tough season last year.

Although they were beaten by Sale FC just before the Christmas break, they enter 2016 off the back of a 27-18 win over the Luctonians, so they’ll be confident of another victory from this encounter.

Sandal are battling hard to remain in touch with the top teams in National Two North. After promotion via the National Three North play-off last season, many may have thought Sandal would be fighting to stay in this division, but it hasn’t been the case as they currently occupy fifth place in the table.

The Yorkshire side have picked up some great victories this season, but they must be wary of slipping down the table as three wins in their last eight games as seen them fall away slightly from the top two. Nevertheless, it has been a great campaign for Sandal so far.

Leicester Lions v Otley

Leicester Lions are struggling to gain any momentum this season. The Lions have been unable to string together a run of strong performances and as a result, they currently sit mid-table – although this is an improvement on last season.

Their last outing was one of the best examples of this inconsistency as despite beating Caldy and Broadstreet, they went down 29-22 against South Leicester. They are still unbeaten at home this season which means they will be a tough nut to crack for Otley this Saturday.

It’s fair to say Otley have had a season which many may have predicted they would have thus far. The men from Cross Green are currently sixth in the table but take this trip to the Midlands on the back of three defeats in their last four.

Before that run of results, Otley had won four matches on the bounce which shows that inconsistency has halted their progression so far this campaign. Their win in the final game of 2015 against Sandal will have given them confidence that they can push on in the second half of the season, starting with this fixture against Leicester Lions.

Harrogate v Luctonians

Harrogate will be disappointed with their season so far. Although they are in the top half, a fourth place finish last season was a good platform for ‘Gate to build upon, but they just haven’t been able to do that.

They currently lie eighth this term with seven wins from their 14 games and return to Ruddling Lane off the back of two away defeats to Tynedale and Broadstreet. Harrogate beat Preston Grasshoppers in their last game at home so they will be hoping they can secure their fifth home victory of the season this Saturday.

The Luctonians are once again struggling this season. After staying up on the final day of last season, the Herefordshire side are embroiled in another relegation battle this term.

As things stand, the side from Mortimer Park continue to be in the bottom three as they occupy 15th place in the league. They were gathering momentum after three straight wins, but a defeat in the final game before Christams against Stourbridge leaves them five points from safety. Still, they will be looking to recapture their form from those recent victories in Yorkshire this weekend.

Chester v Broadstreet

Chester are struggling for consistency this season. Although there certainly is no lack of determination and effort, the men from Hare Lane haven’t been able to improve on their fifth place finish from the last campaign as they have won just six games this term.

Last time out Chester were beaten 20-13 away at Caldy and as such, they currently occupy ninth place in the table. They are more than capable of hauling themselves up the table and a win here against Broadstreet could see them move into the top half.

Broadstreet are battling against the drop this season. Despite having finished seventh last term after promotion into this division, ‘Street are struggling towards the lower reaches of the division.

After winning matches against Sandal and Harrogate, the Midlands side were brought back down to earth with defeats to Leicester Lions and Huddersfield which leaves them bottom of the league.

At this stage of the season last year, they dug themselves out of the bottom three to finish in the top half and they will be hoping that history repeats itself once again.

Sale FC v Preston Grasshoppers

Sale FC seem to have adapted to National Two North life reasonably well. They are level on points with Preston heading into this fixture and occupy 11th place after promotion into this division.

Their home form has been key to this. Five of Sale’s six wins this season have come at Heywood Road and will be hoping their good performances in front of their own fans continues this weekend when they welcome Garth Dew’s side to Manchester.

Preston Grasshoppers are enjoying some good recent form at present. They enter the New Year having won four of their last five matches which has seen them move eight points clear of the relegation zone.

The Hoppers stayed up on the final day of last season and their last few results means they are now up to 10th in the league as they travel to Sale FC this weekend looking for their fourth away win of the season.

Huddersfield v Tynedale

Huddersfield have been having a tough season so far. After consolidating themselves in this division last year, ‘Field have been unable to build on their eighth place finish of last term which was so impressive.

As things stand, the Yorkshire club sit in the bottom three as they occupy 14th place as a result of winning just five games thus far. They picked up a crucial victory just before Christmas against relegation rivals Broadstreet to end a run of four straight defeats so they will be hoping to carry that confidence into this clash with Tynedale.

Tynedale just haven’t matched up to their expectations so far this season. After relegation from National One, Tyne have not found life as easy as they may have thought in National Two North as they sit just four points ahead of Huddersfield.

There have been signs of an improvement over the last two months, but inconsistency in results has not allowed them to push up the table. Tyne won their final game of a difficult 2015 against Harrogate and they will be looking to turn over a new leaf for 2016 when they travel to Lockwood Park this weekend.

National League Rugby