The Vale of Lune built up to the new North One West season with a narrow defeat at Stoke on Trent on Saturday.
The make-up of the side for the final warm-up game gave an indication to the state of the Powderhouse Lane squad with a contingent of regulars featuring but a combination of injuries, holidays, sporting and work commitments ruling out several familiar faces.
Absent on a more permanent basis will two of Vale’s young players who had made such an impression in recent seasons, James Hodder and Sam Wallbank.
Hodder is working in Manchester has found it difficult to attend weekly training sessions and has been searching for a club in the Manchester area, with Burnage being the favourite.
During his time at the Vale he has scored 78 tries from 150 appearances after making his try scoring debut at Winnington Park in September 2007.
Wallbank, a player who looked equally at home in the back row or at lock forward, has joined Preston Grasshoppers.
He made 110 appearances after making his full debut at home against Garstang in December 2008, scoring 23 tries.
Despite all the late changes the Vale produced a spirited, whole-hearted, team performance in an energy-sapping game.
As was to be expected scrum half Darren Wilson marshalled his troops in his own inimitable style and he received valuable support from Nick Royle who deserved his hat-trick.
The home side delighted their supporters by racing into a 12-0 lead before the Vale struck with a thrilling counter attack instigated by Royle, carried on by Wilson and rounded off by the lively James Curran who raced off his wing to touch down behind the posts and add the conversion.
In the second quarter Stoke added a converted try before Ben Charnley pegged back their lead with a neatly taken try, picking up at the base as the Vale pack drove their opposite numbers over the line from a five-metre scrum, Curran added the conversion.
Although Stoke moved into a 12-point lead, the outcome was too close to call in the final two elongated quarters.
Royle scored his first try after the alert Tudor had swept up a loose ball, Wilson scuttled away, the ball was threaded through the backs with Curran sending Royle on his way for an unconverted try.
Straight from the kick off Adam Foxcroft caught the ball and surged powerfully forward, Wilson, Curran again combined to set up Royle for his second as Curran’s successful conversion brought the Vale to within two points of Stoke.
Vale let their guard drop after a quickly-taken penalty resulted in a converted try.
In the closing minutes Stoke sensed the visitors were tiring and launched a series of attacks but the Vale defence remained firm but it required a number of courageous last-ditch tackles, including one memorable one from Wilson to prevent the thin cherry and white line being breached.
Royle collected his hat-trick with a passage of solo improvisation, when he kicked a wayward ball downfield, bolted after it and when it bounced collected it in full stride to race clear for an unconverted try to leave a gallant Vale side adrift by two points.
Vale start the season with a trip to Broughton Park on Saturday.
Vale of Lune: D Wilson (Capt), N Royle, A Macluskie, J Curran, G Tudor, M Hanson, G McSporran, A Cowey, O Cowey, P Berry, A Foxcroft, H Fellows, B Charnley, S Harrison, B Corless, J Lee, A Russ.