Preston Grasshoppers coach Paul Arnold wants to make most of home comforts

Jake Squirrel is back with Hoppers
Jake Squirrel is back with Hoppers

The first month of the new season in National League Two North sees Preston Grasshoppers sticking close to home – they have three games at Lightfoot Green and the short trip to Fylde.

Nevertheless, head coach Paul Arnold says it is a “difficult start” to their 150th anniversary campaign.

The first visitors are Sedgley Park, who finished third last season, followed by the away game at Fylde, then home dates with two promoted clubs, Loughborough Students and Hull.

But, says Arnold, there are “no gimmes” in this division. “A team could well lose six or seven games and still win the league,” he said.

There are five new opponents compared with last season, Loughborough, Hull, Scunthorpe, Luctonians and Caldy replacing Macclesfield, Leicester Lions, Peterborough Lions, Hull Ionians and South Leicester.

Arnold’s initial goal is to improve on last year, when Hoppers finished seventh.

Hoppers have recruited well, bringing in brothers Jordan and Ben Dorrington as well as the returning Sam Wallbank – all from Vale of Lune – as well as forward Toby Harrison from Fylde and half-back Joe Prior from Wigan.

Hooker Christian Taylor and scrum-half Jake Squirrell are also back at Hoppers after time elsewhere.

With Tom Davidson undergoing an operation, Arnold says the No.10 shirt is up for grabs, and he hopes to have injured prop Oga Mabaya back in action before too long.

For the visit of Sedgley, who recorded two narrow victories over Hoppers last season, Arnold starts Prior and Squirrell at half-back, Harrison in the back row and Jordan Dorrington at full-back.

Tyler Sloane props and Sam Stott is teamed with Alex Hurst at centre.

Vale of Lune, who have also lost Damon Hall, Olly Jacques and Chris Ramwell, plus retirees Jonty Higgin and Jack Turton, after last season’s relegation to North One West, start with a visit by promoted Altrincham Kersal, the first of three successive home games.

Tom Cvijvanovic and Harry Finan are back at Powderhouse Lane and go straight into the starting line-up, along with debutant hooker Harm Dokter.

Andy Powers skippers the side from the back row.

Vale have a new coach, Joel Unsworth, a new director of rugby – former first-team forward Jack Ferguson – and their first lady president Sarah Baines.

Fylde begin their centenary season by breaking new ground with a first trip to promoted Scunthorpe.

Hoppers: J Dorrington; Spence, Hurst, Stott, Jordan; Prior, Squirrell; Sloane, Millea, Miller, Murray, Howard, Carlson, Harrison, Lamprey. Replacements: Taylor, Procter, Wallbank, B Dorrington, Fitzpatrick.

Vale: S Manning; Fern, Robertson, A Crookall, N Manning; Finan, Swarbrick; Yates, Dokte Roninson, Fellows, Cvijanovic, Ayrton, Powers. Replacements: Preston, Tagg, T Crookall.