Promoted Preston Grasshoppers expecting a tough season

Hoppers coach Paul Arnold
Hoppers coach Paul Arnold

The new rugby season, which starts tomorrow, sees neighbours Preston Grasshoppers and Fylde in the same league for the first time since 2010/11 – and the rival fans do not have to wait long for their first clash.

Hoppers host Fylde next Saturday, with the return game in December, but they kick off their National Two North campaign this weekend with a trip to Chester.

Preston’s head coach Paul Arnold has admitted that the opening weeks present a tough start in what he calls “a brutal division” and stresses that he expects this to be a year of consolidation.

But he will be able to draw on most of the squad which earned promotion last season – with the addition of players such as forward Adam Howard and back Tom Davidson, both formerly of Wharfedale, ex-Kendal scrum-half James Gough and threequarter Matt Crow from Chester.

Hoppers will be renewing acquaintance over the coming months with many old friends, along with newcomers to their fixture list in Peterborough Lions. They start at Chester, who finished 
seventh last season.

Despite injuries to Chris Roddy, Dan Madden and Jake Squirrell, Hoppers’ starting line-up features 11 of last season’s familiar faces. Howard makes his debut at lock, with Davidson and Gough forming a new half-back pairing.

Flanker Jack Edwards is back after being injured for most of the last campaign.

Fylde have also been out recruiting this summer, with scrum-half Cameron Crampton joining from Sandbach, prop Elliott Horner, a Lancashire Under-20s cap, from Kirkby Lonsdale and flanker Ben O’Ryan, late of Ballymena and Blackburn.

They begin their bid to bounce straight back after relegation with a home game against Otley.

Vale of Lune, promoted to the North Premier League, can look forward to derbies against Kendal and Kirkby Lonsdale, along with several trips to Yorkshire and the North East – the first of them tomorrow to Blaydon, relegated from National Two North in April.

The clubs last met more than 20 years ago.

Vale have lost the services of Jack Sadler, who has had to retire, and the influential Evan Stewart, but have gained Hull Ionians prop Mike Bradshaw and added experienced rugby league coach Dave Kirby to Dan Williams’ off-field staff.

Bradshaw makes his debut in a pack lacking Sam Wallbank, suspended after being sent off in a warm-up game.

There is also a first start for ex-Hopper Will Hunt, who is at centre in a back division hit by the unavailability of half-a-dozen regulars.

Hoppers: Jordan; Trueman, Stott, Fitzpatrick, Spense; Davidson, Gough; Mabaya, Millea, Altham, Howard, Murray, Edwards, Trippier, Lamprey. Replacements: Wilkinson, Johnson, Procter, Ward, Cave.

Vale: Ramwell; Curran, Higgin, Hunt, Manning; B Dorrington, Lomas; Bradshaw, Powers, Pillow, Foxcroft, Fellows, Robinson, Spavin, Ayrton. Replacements: Smith, J Wallbank, Finan.