Big freeze threat to Hoppers’ hopes

Craig Aikman
Craig Aikman
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It will be a case of ‘Winter Weatherwatch’ tonight and tomorrow morning for rugby clubs around the North West.

But Preston Grasshoppers’ first home game since December 8 will give them the chance of recording back-to-back doubles following last Saturday’s timely victory at Hull.

That win ended a run of four successive defeats as they beat the Humbersiders for the second time in this year’s National League Two North campaign.

Tomorrow, Westoe head for Lightfoot Green, having already lost at home to Hoppers, 47-17. They were also defeated 27-20 at Preston last season.

Tomorrow, Hoppers are without Karl Fitzpatrick, who is unavailable, so Lewis Allen gets his chance at fly-half and will be partnered by Craig Aikman, the former Fylde scrum-half making his first start after two appearances off the bench.

Mo Mohammed, on loan from Leeds, and Andrew Irving will prop.

Vale of Lune, having missed a chance to move up the North One West table last weekend, hope – frost permitting –to be taking on leaders Liverpool St Helens in their first game at Powderhouse Lane since defeat by Wilmslow on December 15.

Like Hoppers, Vale are also bidding to do the double, having won 26-18 at LSH earlier in the campaign. But they will be mindful that they lost last season’s home fixture 41-33.

With a game in hand of the three clubs above them, Vale are still well in touch – just seven points behind tomorrow’s visitors.

Remarkably, LSH have a better away record than on their own patch – they have won all seven on the road, while losing two and drawing one out of nine at home.

Vale have a bit of an injury crisis up front, with Andy Powers nursing a knee, James Hesketh suffering a recurrence of a shoulder injury and Mark Hanson limping off after just one minute last weekend. In addition, Alex Baines requires a late fitness check.

So they will choose the starting line-up from 17 names, although it looks certain that Darren Wilson and Jimmy Moore will reverse their half-back roles.

Ollie Cowey, Lee Acton, who was at a wedding last week, and Harry Fellows, back from suspension, are in contention for pack places.

Yet another side seeking a double tomorrow are Fylde, scheduled to visit Sedgley Park Tigers, whom they defeated 21-11 at Ansdell earlier in the National One campaign.

They also won 29-13 at Park last season and will be keen for a repeat to emphasise their position as the top North West club after Premiership stragglers Sale.

With several injury checks due, Fylde add five more names to last week’s matchday 20 – backs Ben Rath, Warren Spragg and Mike Waywell, newly returned to the club, and forwards John Wild and Danny Maher.

Firmly rooted to the foot of National Three North, Kendal seek to end of run of 12 defeats when Penrith make the trip down the M6. But Kendal have won just twice in eight games at Mint Bridge and have lost their last five there.

In total, they have just two victories in 16 games. In September, they lost 17-12 at Penrith, who now lie sixth with seven wins, two draws and seven defeats.

Just one of those victories has come away from home – at Burnage back on September 22; overall, they have lost six away games – the last five in succession. There’s not much to pick between the sides defensively – Kendal have the third-worst record with 474 conceded, just 16 more than Penrith.

Hoppers: Taylor; Hughes, Baines, Ward, Birchall; Allen, Aikman; Irving, Holmes, Mohammed, Gore, Murray, Murphy, Keenan, Moon.

Vale (from): Ward; Hodder, Moorby, McLusky, Royle; Wilson, Moore; A Cowey, Berry, O Cowey, Acton, Wallbank, Fellows, Tudor, Lin, Charnley, Baines.

Fylde (from): C Briers, Viney, S Briers, Barrow, Brennand, Spragg, Rath, Waywell, Kenyon, Johnson, de la Harpe, Wallwork; Birchall, Roddam, Altham, Griffiths, Wild, Burtonwood, Arnold, Banks, Vernon, 
Stewart, S Beaumont, Thompson, Maher.