Following two successive narrow defeats – and an injury list that includes more than half of a possible first-team squad – Preston Grasshoppers could probably do without the always tricky trip to Tynedale tomorrow.
Both clubs have started the National League Two North campaign with two wins, a draw and three defeats, but Tynedale have picked up three extra bonus points to sit seventh compared to Hoppers’ 10th.
Paul Arnold’s men lost 31-29 in the North East last season but won the return 21-5 and went on to finish two places and six points behind Tynedale in seventh spot.
Although Caldy, Fylde and Sedgley Park are opening up a bit of a gap at the top, it is very tight below them, with four points covering the next 10 clubs.
Last Saturday saw plenty of movement, with four teams climbing three or four places while three others, including Hoppers, slipped back three.Tynedale were among those moving up three spots.
Some of Hoppers’ injured players are close to a return, but Tom Davidson and Ally Murray are still several weeks away and Pete Altham is likely to be out for the rest of the season.
There will be late fitness checks before finalisling tomorrow’s line-up, but threequarters Nick Gregson, James Fitzpatrick and Alex Hurst, along with hooker Chris Taylor, are back in a squad of 23 after missing last week’s defeat.
Meanwhile, Two North’s second-placed team, Fylde, take their unbeaten record – five victories and a draw – to Hinckley, who are down in 13th place after two wins and four defeats.
Fylde lost 5-16 at Hinckley last season but won the reverse fixture 21-8.
Vale of Lune’s third defeat in six games dropped them to sixth in North One West last weekend. Tomorrow they host Penrith, who won their first four games but lost the next two to be in third place.
Vale make just one change to their starting line-up, with Billy Swarbrick returning at scrum-half.
The make-up of the bench has been delayed pending disciplinary hearings.
Hoppers (from): J Dorrington, Spence, Browne, Crow, Gregson, Stott, Fitzpatrick, Hurst, Jordan, B Dorrington, Squirrell; Blanchard, Madden, Millea, Taylor, Miller, Purcell, Wallbank, Procter, Howard, Carlson, Harrison, Lamprey.
Vale: S Manning; Fern, Forrest, Robertson, Eastwood; Briggs, Swarbrick; Brandford, Dokter, Pillow, Tagg, Fellows, Powers, Ayrton, Robinson.