Baines is all set to reach a landmark

Phi Baines
Phi Baines
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Preston Grasshoppers may sit fourth in National League Two North but they have not looked overly convincing in the first month of the campaign.

So they know they will have to raise their game considerably over the next two Saturdays when they take on two of the three clubs above them.

A week tomorrow, they visit old North West rivals Sedgley Park, with whom they are level on points but with an inferior scoring record.

Tomorrow, however, they enter uncharted waters when high-flying Ampthill and District come to Lightfoot Green for the first time.

The Bedfordshire side were promoted in April and have carried on as they left off last season, winning all four of their games at this higher level to claim top spot.

They have been scoring freely, too, running up 179 points while conceding just 44 – both of which are the best in the league – and getting a four-try bonus point in each outing.

Hoppers, having started with a shock home defeat, have won their next three – two of them on the road – but they only squeezed out a one-point win at struggling Stockport last Saturday.

Preston will need a lot more physicality against Ampthill, not just in the starting XV but through impact players off the bench, where four of the five are forwards.

Rich Morton returns at prop and Brad Tuff starts at hooker after Phil Mills took a knock last week.

Andy Napier is back at flanker after a lengthy injury lay-off and, as Lloyd Davies is unavailable, there is a new half-back pairing of Olly Carter and Sam Whyte.

Skipper Phil Baines, switching back to centre, will be making his 100th appearance in all first-team games.

In North One West, Vale of Lune and Kendal both host promoted clubs this weekend.

Vale, fourth in the table after two successive defeats following their opening two wins, welcome ninth-placed Bolton.

The visitors have lost both their away fixtures, while winning both home games. Vale have won one and lost one at Powderhouse Lane.

They make more changes tomorrow, with university student Rob Lamberton starting on the wing, outside Ian Bird, who is back from injury.

Up front, Dan Baines takes the hooking role and his brother Alex returns from injury in the back row.

Table-toppers Kendal host 11th-placed New Brighton, who have lost their only away game to date, while winning two and losing one at home.

The Cumbrians seek their fifth win in a row and third in succession at Mint Bridge.

Fylde have dropped back to fourth in National League One after last weekend’s defeat at Esher – their first of the season.

Two of their three victories have come at Ansdell, where tomorrow they welcome Loughborough Students.

Fylde have picked up a lot of injuries to the forwards in what coach Mark Nelson calls “a pretty brutal league”.

Philosophically, he says it gives opportunities for players coming through the system.

This week, Jonny Wild and Simon Griffiths are the starting props, with Ben Corless and Danny Maher providing front-row cover from the bench, and Sam Beaumont again partnering Paul Arnold at lock in the continued absence of Gareth Gore and Gareth Rawlings.

Hoppers: Embleton; Allen, Baines, Ward, Kendall; Carter, Whyte; Madden, Tuff, Morton, Tomlinson, Murray, Napier, Lees, Taylot. Replacements: Wilkinson, Irving, Altham, Walker, Kindred..

Vale: Weeks; Lamberton, Bird, Dorrington, Ball; Lomas, Swarbrick; Hesketh, D Baines, Pillow, Charnley, Foxcroft, A Baines, Ackers, Wallbank.

Fylde: Spragg; Dorrington, Briers, S Rawlings, Brennand; Johnson, de la Harpe; Wild, Burtonwood, Griffiths, Beaumont, Arnold, Robinson, Vernon, Stewart. Replacements: Corless, Maher, Goodman, Kenyon, Banks.