Hoppers chief targets top half

Preston Grasshoppers head coach Garth Dew
Preston Grasshoppers head coach Garth Dew
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One week to go to the start of the season and it is all change at Preston Grasshoppers and Fylde.

Hoppers have lost four players to their local rivals – Lewis Allen, Pete Altham, Dominic Moon and Phil Mills.

But they welcome back two Lightfoot Green favourites in Sean Taylor, after a season with Ballymena in Ireland, and Ollie Viney, who has returned to the club after several seasons at Fylde and a year out of the game for family and business reasons.

Preston have also recruited back-five forward Ryan Birchall-Feeney, of Carlisle and Cumbria, and young fly-half Tom Forster, who is on loan for the season from Fylde.

New to the Hoppers’ fixture list this term are South Leicester, who won National League Three Midlands and the Leicestershire Cup last season, and Sale, who have reached National Two North on the back of three promotions in four years.

Preston will also renew rivalries with promoted Sandal – reviving memories of a promotion-clinching victory there for Hoppers back in 1999 – as well as Macclesfield and Tynedale, who were relegated from National League One in April.

The campaign kicks off next Saturday at Chester, with Sale being the first visitors to Lightfoot Green on September 12.

Experienced hooker Alan Holmes takes over as director of rugby this season, with Garth Dew heading the coaching team for a second year and hoping to avoid a repeat of the nerve-racking end to the last campaign, when relegation was still a possibility going into the final fixture.

Dew is making no rash forecasts about the year ahead, instead targeting a “top-half finish”. The aim is “to keep finishing higher each year”.

He added: “The club have put in a lot of effort off the field and, on it, it is time for some of the younger boys to step up.

“The trip to Chester is a tough start, but it will be a good opportunity to see where we’re at.”

Meanwhile over at Fylde, other new recruits are prop Liam Launders, of Hawick and Edinburgh Adacemicals, Anthony Bingham, Rossendale’s Lancashire County winger, and ex-Redruth lock Todd Prisk, who will help cover the absence of Gareth Gore, who has business commitments.

Head coach Paul Arnold, who took over from Mark Nelson for the final few games last season, is in charge of the sidee.

Fylde begin with two games against college sides - at home to Loughborough Students next weekend and away to Hartpury College on September 12.

Back on the Fylde fixture list are Plymouth Albion, relegated from the Championship, Henley Hawks, promoted from National Two South, and Ampthill and District and Hull Ionians, who were the top two in National Two North last April.

In North One West, Vale of Lune resume rivalries with Altrincham Kersal, who bounced straight back from South Lancs/Cheshire One, and Leigh, promoted from North Lancs/Cumbria alongside champions Blackburn. Rochdale are also back on the list.

Vale start with a home game against Penrith before heading to Kendal on September 12.

The local derbies with Kirkby Lonsdale are on September 19 (home) and January 9 (away).

They go into the campaign without any warm-up games, a couple of planned fixtures having fallen by the wayside this month.

Fergus Owen and Phil Stott continue to head the coaching team and Daniel Baines takes over as skipper.

Jonty Higgin is back in the area to fight for a place in the side, but Vale have lost Rob Lamberton and Chris Weeks after their spells at the university and James Hesketh looks like missing the whole season after injuring a knee and shoulder in a bike accident.

Vale will be looking for some second-teamers who made their mark towards the end of last season to continue to challenge for senior places.