Gareth Dyer's rugby column
Former Preston Grasshoppers player and ex-director of rugby at Lightfoot Green writes every Friday for the Evening PostThe new season starts on Saturday with the first round of league games throughout the English league pyramid.
The new season at Lightfoot Green will also mean more than a new fixture list and fresh faces at the club. There will also be a new “plastic” pitch with work now getting under way.
Those of you of a certain vintage such as I, will recall the buzz that the installation of a plastic pitch brought at Deepdale back in the mid 80s.
Back then the plastic pitch technology was new but limited. I think it is fair to say that the 4G pitch being installed at Lightfoot Green will be nothing like the hard unforgiving surface we all got carpet burns from during birthday parties at the football ground.
So whilst there is sprinkling of new faces on and a new pitch bed in, there may also be a sense of frustration for the coaches and rugby bosses at Lightfoot Green.
The timing of the installation of the new pitch means that for first two months of the season, Hoppers will have to be play on one of Lightfoot Green’s other pitches.
Whilst the surfaces at the ground are very good, I am sure everyone will be praying for a dry early autumn period.
Obviously the summer months would have been the optimum time to get the works done, but sometimes these things are out of the control of the decision makers at the club.
Hopefully a bit of short-term inconvenience will translate into long-term gain at the club.
It will be up to the coaches and players to make it work for them during the first couple of months of the season.
The other frustration will be in terms of where the squad currently stands going into the start of the season.
At the end of last season, I mentioned that I was pleased that the club was looking at a longer-term plan to ensure squad stability.
Most of last season’s squad had been retained on longer-term deals with some new – and returning – faces signed up early. But having signed up a settled squad and added some impressive performers to the playing roster, things out of the control of the club have then weakened that position.
Several players have had to move away with work – a talent drain that affects the area not just in sporting terms – whilst a couple of players had their heads turned by offers from elsewhere.
One of these was the result of the unhealthy relationship the club has to endure with representative rugby.
You can forgive the club for thinking that despite best laid plans things sometimes just conspire against you.
So where does that leave the Hoppers squad going into a tough opening fixture away to promotion favourites Wharfedale?
Wel,l on paper, the likely starting XV looks strong with a good mix of youth and experience.
Despite some players being young in years, they now have three to four seasons of National League rugby under their belts.
If the key players are kept fit then there is no reason why the club cannot build upon last season’s mid-table finish.
So with that in mind, here are some players to look out for this season.
In fly half Lewis Allen, Hoppers have a gem of a player. A good footballer and balanced runner, his goal kicking is strong and his relationship with half-back partner Harry Moulding has bags of potential.
With close to a hundred games under his belt, it is time for Lewis to stamp his class and authority on the side.
New second row signing Chris Roddy brings with him physicality and experience. A former captain at this level with Stockport, he is someone the Hoppers hierarchy have been chasing for a while.
He will be tasked with adding some nous to the pack and ensure a solid set piece foundation.
His experience together with that of Messrs Peterson, Altham and Viney will be important.
In Ally Murray, Hoppers have a quality performer who is often influential.
Murray offers a strong carrying game and set-piece solidity as well as good rugby brain.
Often irascible, on his day he is one of the best players in the division when he channels his talent positively.
Youngster Sam Gale came into the side last season and had a run of games from the starting line-up and from the bench.
A clever footballer, he has developed physically and provides a solid line-out option as well as carrying presence.
He was a player I kept a close eye on during my time at the club and I hope this will be a breakthrough season for the back rower.
So a tough start but definite reasons for optimism for the season ahead.