Preview: National League 2 North, Week 6

Perhaps inevitably we focus this week on former Sale Sharks and Sedgley Park Tigers man Garth Dew in his new role as Head Coach with Preston Grasshoppers.

Team News from Grasshoppers

It’s all change again this weekend as Garth Dew’s squad travel to Sedgley Park.

Now fully fit Phil Mills and John Peterson start in the front row and the returning Chris Taylor starting at Number Eight. Brad Tuff and Rich Morton take a turn on the bench along with Will Lees.

Meanwhile the backs line up as last week against Ampthill apart from Billy Woof coming in to make his debut after scoring a hat-trick of tries last Saturday at Rochdale replacing Jack Ward who moves to the bench.

1 John Peterson, 2 Phil Mills, 3 Danny Madden, 4 Reece Tomlinson, 5 Ally Murray, 6, Andy Napier, 7 Jack Walker, 8 Chris Taylor, 9 Sam Whyte, 10 Ollie Carter,11 Sam Kendall,12 Billy Woof,13 Phil Baines (captain),14 Lewis Allen, 15 John Embleton.

Replacements: 16 Brad Tuff, 17 Jack Ward, 18 Richard Morton, 19 Sam Kindred, 20 Will Lees.

This weekend's fixtures:

Ampthill & District v Hull Ionians

Birmingham & Solihull Bees v Leicester Lions

Broadstreet v Harrogate

Caldy v Huddersfield

Hull v Stourbridge Saxons

Otley v Luctonians

Sedgley Park v Preston Grasshoppers

Stockport v Chester

Having made changes to his team, coach Dew will be looking for a performance similar to last season’s opener against sedgley Park. He certainly won’t want a repeat of the away fixture.

Last season away to the Tigers, the Grasshoppers pack was dismantled and No. 8 Andy Napier suffered a horrific injury. Both Napier and Sam Whyte will find themselves on opposite sides to the Tigers' Max Ashcroft - the three played together at Hutton Grammar School.

Hoppers take to the road once again, this time for their shortest away league journey of the season to Park Lane the home of Sedgley Park, or Tigers as they like to be named these days.

The home side currently occupy third place in the league table will be looking to keep in touch with the two runaway leaders of National 2 North, Hull Ionians and last week’s opponents at Lightfoot Green, Ampthill who with a full strength squad available looked every part a National 1 outfit.

It’s very early in the season to be making any predictions, but with one of the pre-season favourites Stourbridge not looking like they’ll be making a bid for promotion after three consecutive defeats, it looks very much like a two horse race unless our opponents this week can make up ground on the current top two.

The outcome of this week’s game down in Bedfordshire where Ampthill and Hull Ionians face up will be very interesting indeed. The Tigers will still harbour hopes of a top two finish and will have kicked themselves for the way they lost to Ampthill. Last weekend they dug deep to secure the win at Birmingham; their captain, Juan Crous tweeting "a win is a win."

The rest of the table is another thing entirely. Stockport currently sit at its foot, but as we saw on our last venture away from Lightfoot Green they are currently without a number of key players and mustn’t be underestimated.

Birmingham Solihull and Broadstreet who occupy the next two places have both suffered a number of narrow defeats. A view on how tight the league stands at present can be measured by the fact that Caldy & Hoppers who sit joint fifth are just a bonus point win clear of Birmingham Solihull who occupy the highest of the relegation places.

Dew will know all about the club who reside in the Whitefield area of North Manchester having spent a large portion of his playing career with them and will be determined his charges have given a good account of themselves come Saturday evening. The Tigers have shown that they have a versatile front five, strong running back row and a creative set of backs.

The return from Bath University of Ollie Parkinson and the signing of Macclesfield’s Ryan Parkinson has given the Tigers a new dimension. The loss of hooker Jonny Matthews to Rotherham had caused concerns however both Liam West and Dave Blackwell have stood up and been counted.

Encounters between these two North-West clubs commenced just about ten years after Grasshopper’s move from Lea to Fulwood with an away game and victory by 12 points to six.

Sedgley had stepped into a vacant Easter Saturday fixture date on the 2nd of April 1983 after Blackburn had pulled out and the event started a short run of fixtures for just three years all of which were won by Hoppers.

The next time the two clubs met was in the first ever League fixture which was played at Park Lane back in 1997 when Hoppers continued their winning ways with a narrow 20 points to 16 victory.

Hoppers went on to complete the double that season and it wasn’t until we played a Lancashire Cup tie at Lightfoot Green during the 2000/2001 season that ‘Park achieved a victory over Preston Grasshoppers something that was repeated in league form at the double during the following season when Hoppers were relegated from National 1.

Sedgley Park however remained at Level 3 and apart from a number of Lancashire Cup ties and a pre-season fixture during 2011, the two teams hadn’t met in league action until last season. The playing record between Hoppers and Sedgley Park shows the current standing to be in Preston Grasshoppers' favour.

There is a rich history between the clubs - as can be viewed from the photo gallery above.

National League Rugby