Grasshoppers face one ‘Hull’ of a test

Garth Dew
Garth Dew
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Despite a better away record than at home so far this season, Preston Grasshoppers face a big test as they head to Hull Ionians tomorrow.

The Humbersiders sit second in National League Two North, with just one defeat in their first eight games since being relegated last spring after just one season at the higher level. This year’s only defeat came at leaders Ampthill and District, and Ionians have won all four home games.

Hoppers, meanwhile, have won four and lost four, but have claimed victory in two of their three away fixtures and came close to a win over top-four side Sedgley Park in their last away trip.

They moved up to seventh with last week’s big victory over Leicester Lions and head coach Garth Dew, pictured, said: “This was the perfect stepping stone for going to Ionians. We are confident we can mix it with anyone, but we can’t get ahead of ourselves. We will just ask for more of the same and encourage the lads to back themselves.”

Hoppers have picked up six bonus points to Ionians’ seven, but there is a big difference in their scoring stats – Hull have run up 282 and conceded 127 while Preston have scored 190 and let in 188.

Unsuprisingly, there is no change in Hoppers’ starting XV, with a solitary switch on the bench – hooker Brad Tuff replacing Jack Wilkinson after injury.

There are successive Lancashire/Cumbria home dates in prospect for Vale of Lune in North One West, with Carlisle coming to Powderhouse House tomorrow and Wigton on November 15 after a weekend off.

One point separates seventh-placed Vale from Carlisle, who are sixth. The visitors have won five out of eight but only one out of three on the road, although they are the only side to beat Kendal this season. Vale have four victories and four defeats, with three wins out of four at home – including their last two games there.

Their eight bonus points are the best in the league, while Carlisle have five. Vale won 55-24 at home last season and drew 13-13 at Carlisle.

James Birchall retains his place on the Vale wing after getting a late call-up last week and Rhys Randall, who missed most of last season, comes in at lock.

Meanwhile, Kendal remain top after seven wins out of eight as they head for eighth-placed Broughton Park, who have won five and lost three. The Manchester club have won three out of four at home while Kendal have two victories and one defeat on the road.

Park won two close encounters last season – 17-15 at Mint Bridge and 38-37 at home.

Fylde seek to extend their unbeaten run to five games – they have three victories and a last-gasp draw in their most recent outings – as they welcome Blaydon to Ansdell. The visitors are 10th in National League One after four wins out of eight (and two out of four on the road). Overall, third-placed Fylde have won six, drawn one and lost one, with four wins in a row at home.

There were two low-scoring and close games last season, Fylde winning 9-5 at home but losing 14-15 at Blaydon, who have collected just three bonus points this term to Fylde’s eight.

Scrum-half Ryan de la Harpe will be missing from the Fylde line-up for the next few weeks for the best of reasons – he has been called up by Namibia for a series of autumn internationals.

He is likely to be replaced this week by Jordan Dorrington, switching from the wing, with Craig Nicholls as cover on the bench. Ollie Brennand and Tommy Banks are this week’s wingers, with Warren Spragg reverting to full-back.

Fylde hope to have Dan Birchall back at prop after an ankle injury.

Hoppers: Embleton; Baines, Russell, Ward, Gargett; Allen, Kindred; Peterson, Mills, Altham, Tomlinson, Murray, Napier, Lees, Taylor. Replacements: Tuff, Irving, Morton, Whyte, Hurst.

Vale: Weeks; Birchall, Lamberton, Dorrington, Ball; Macluskie, Swarbrick; Hesketh, D Baines, McLaren-Dorrington, Charnley, Randall, Barker, Garnett, Wallbank. Replacements: Pillow, Berry, Manning.

Fylde: Spragg; Banks, Briers, S Rawlings, Brennand; Johnson, Dorrington; Birchall, Burtonwood, Lewis, Arnold, Beaumont, Vernon, Stewart, Fairbrother. Replacements: Griffiths, Maher, Bedlow, Goodman, Nicholls.