A fresh challenge but old rivalries die hard

Let battle commence! A new season of league rugby starts this weekend – with the resumption of some old rivalries.

Preston Grasshoppers begin life in National League Three North tomorrow with a trip to Waterloo, who were relegated with them last term, while Kendal host familiar foes Harrogate in National Two.

In the same league, Fylde break new ground with the long trek to promoted Penzance.

Up in National One, Orrell renew acquaintance on Sunday with Rugby Lions after winning promotion last season.

Vale of Lune start their campaign in North Two West a week later than the national leagues and play a trial game against Vickers tomorrow.

For his first league game as Hoppers coach, Paul Manley – the former Orrell forward – has opted for a squad of 21, from whom the starting line-up will be named on Saturday.

It's a mix of familiar names – including former skipper Neil Ashton, who had said last season was going to be his last – and new recruits.

Among these are Tongan international midfield back Sengili Tuihalamaka, former Lancaster Royal Grammar School pupil and England 18-group player Oliver Viney, ex-Hoppers Colt Russell Meadows, back after a year at Blackburn, another ex-Colt Alex Youngman, Army man Stuart Sylvester, formerly of Camberley, and – back from university – Richard Leeming, son of Hoppers back-row legend Neil.

Also in the squad are summer signings from North West rivals Orrell and Fylde, Darren Clark, Alex Moffat, Mike Bradwell and Anton Cramant.

Waterloo did the double over Hoppers last season – 21-18 and 34-22 – and finished second from bottom, rwo points ahead of their Preston rivals.

Fylde have delayed selection for the Cornish trek, pending the registration of new players.

Kendal have recruited two players from Workington Rugby Union Club and one of them, Martin Armstrong, goes straight in at full-back tomorrow. The other, back-rower Daniel Bowman, is on the bench alongside another newcomer, forward Shawn Renwick, who was with Moseley last season.

Faced with a scrum-half injury crisis, Kendal have sent for former skipper Darren Sharpe, who is now in the Southampton area. The new captain is No8 Adrian Bateson.

Kendal beat Harrogate 32-14 at home last October but went down 12-25 in the return fixture.

The Yorkshiremen eventually finished fourth, whereas Kendal were fourth from bottom.

Hoppers: (from): Quigley, Flynn, Viney, Monaghan, P Bailey, Chesworth, Houston, Tuihalamaka, Meadows, Dupre; D Chadwick, Clark, Shepherd, Moffat, Sylvester, Cramant, M Bailey, Ashton, Leeming, Bradwell, Youngman.

Kendal: Armstrong; Balmer, S Healey, Voortman, Stephens; Scott, Sharpe; Coxon, Gowing, Thompson, Capstick, Robinson, M Bowman, Wolstenholme, Bateson.

Orrell fans get their first proper view of the new-look first-team squad this weekend when the National League One campaign gets under way.

Fire-hit Edge Hall Road is out of action for the timebeing, so the season starts at a different venue – the JJB Stadium – and on a different day, Sunday, from what the Orrell faithful are used to.

Despite winning promotion and the League Two championship last term, Orrell have recruited avidly under new Australian coach Ross Reynolds and it will be an unfamiliar pack, particularly, which takes on Rugby Lions.

Injuries have already disrupted Reynolds' plans somewhat, with back-rower Alex Bennett, Scottish centre Andy Craig – both vital components of the promotion push last season – and Samoan scrum-half recruit Steve So'oialo all unavailable at the moment.

New faces up front include hooker Mike Howe, prop Kris Fullman, lock Steve Moore, and flanker Drew Hickey, alongside last year's regulars Alistair Livesey, Chris Bentley, Nick Easter, and the fit-again Matt Lacey.

There's a more familiar look behind the scrum, with Wes Davies at full-back and Richard Welding and Wade Kelly lining up alongside the returning Scott Barrow in the threequarters.

The notable exception there is ex-Wigan Warrior Simon Haughton, who makes his league debut in the 15-a-side game on the wing.

In So'oialo's absence with a knee injury, Paul Newton will resume his partnernership with the ever-improving Phil Jones at half-back.

Reynolds said: "We have worked really hard since early June. We have done a lot of strength and fitness work, together with a wide range of skills.

"We are only 80% along the road yet, but some real game-action should enable us to step up and improve the rest.

"We are confident and have already set our sights high this season to go for promotion to the Premiership. Whether that is a realistic goal, only time will tell.

"The squad we have got has bonded well and they are a very happy bunch of lads.

"Whether they will bond sufficiently on the paddock, again only time will provide the answer."

Orrell: Davies; Welding, Barrow, Kelly, Haughton; Jones, Newton; Livesey, Howe, Fullman, Moore, Bentley, Lacey, Hickey, Easter. Replacements: Barretto, Giles, Cusani, Lewitt, Wood, Whittle, Rae.