Tough test for Hoppers

Alex Zavallis-Roebuck returns after a shoulder injury for Hoppers

Alex Zavallis-Roebuck returns after a shoulder injury for Hoppers

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Returning empty-handed from away trips last weekend, Preston Grasshoppers and Fylde might have wished for easier homecomings tomorrow than games against pre-season promotion favourites.

Hoppers host Stourbridge, the early front-runners in National Two North after finishing second last season.

And Fylde welcome National League One table-toppers Doncaster Knights, all set to bounce straight back after relegation from the Championship.

Stourbridge’s only away defeat in nine matches came on November 30 at Darlington Mowden Park, since when they have won five in a row.

Although they have slipped back to third in the table after being top following the first six fixtures, the Midlanders are only four points adrift and have won 16 out of 18 overall.

In contrast, Hoppers have dropped to ninth place following their sixth successive defeat last Saturday.

Alex Zavallis-Roebuck, who has been suffering with a shoulder injury, returns to take the fly-half berth left vacant by Lewis Allen’s injury.

Phil Baines reverts to centre and the only other change to the starting line-up is Mo Mustafa at prop.

Fylde are seeking a seventh successive home win, with just one defeat at Ansdell, at the end of September.

But Doncaster, who have topped the table since the third week of the season, have won four in a row since their defeat at Wharfedale at the beginning of December.

Knights are unbeaten in 10 home games but have lost three out of eight on the road – Henley Hawks and Blaydon emulating Wharfedale’s feat. It is their first visit to Ansdell since 2002.

Doncaster lead the division by eight points while Fylde are 14 points behind them in fourth spot.

The Fylde forwards took a pounding at Worthing last Saturday, with four of them suffering injuries.

But only Gareth Gore’s and skipper Evan Stewart’s are serious enough to keep them out tomorrow.

Sam Beaumont returns at No.8 after five weeks out and will be joined in the back row by Steve McGinnis, with Joe Robinson moving up to lock.

Chris Johnson is back from work commitments abroad to resume his place at fly-half.

A supposedly blank date in the North One West calendar is being used to replay the Altincham Kersal-Kendal game which was abandoned in December due to a serious injury to a home player.

But Vale of Lune will not be restaging their home game against Widnes tomorrow – as originally thought – because the Cheshire club are appealing against the decision.

Garstang will be looking to bounce back from their narrow defeat last Saturday when they travel away to play Ashton-under-Lyne tomorrow.

Earlier in the campaign the two sides drew 21-21, with Garstang conceding yet another late score. This weekend the team is much changed as Garstang are hit with an horrendous injury list and player unavailability.

Hoppers: Taylor; Birchall, Baines, Ward, Kendall; Zavallis-Roebuck, Aikman; Mustafa, Holmes, Altham, Murray, Murphy, Wallbank, Webster, Moon.

Fylde: Viney; Spragg (or Rath), C Briers, S Briers, Brennand; Johnson, de la Harpe; Birchall, Burtonwood, Lewis, Arnold, Robinson, Vernon, McGinnis, Beaumont.

GARSTANG (from): Miller, Barton, Whitaker, Orr, O’Brien, Slater, Kelsall, AN Other, Brown, Dawson, Rawlinson, Pye, Knowles, Constant, Haley, Walling, Hindle