Vale set to take on familiar foes as new season nears
Since the Vale of Lune crashed to an ignominious defeat at Leigh in the final North One West fixture of last season the political and sporting landscape has undergone something of a seismic shift.
After all the turbulence the imminent arrival of a new rugby season might, in the global scheme of things seem like to some, small beer, but such an illusion is far from the truth, as clubs, both humungous and small, the length and breadth of the realm will verify.
Nine clubs, including the Vale who finished in fifth place, retained their tenure in North One West, following the end of season shake out.
All those in the nonet are pretty well known to each other but the other five, who make up the 14, bring with them a valise of hidden variables.
Four of the clubs, Birkenhead Park, Burnage, Northwich and West Park St. Helens have all logged into, at various times, Vale’s airspace, but St. Benedicts, from Whitehaven are a new drone on the flight path.
Birkenhead Park and Burnage, who were relegated from National Division Three North, will harbour expectations of executing a swift return from whence they came, but this bean stalk is not always easy to climb and can be more like an unforgiving greasy pole.
A rejuvenated Northwich, who open their season at the Vale on Saturday, kick off 3pm. must be full of confidence after topping South Lancashire and Cheshire One with an impressive record of 23 victories.
West Park defeated Bolton, 27-20, in their play off game at Bolton after finishing runners up in North Lancashire and Cumbria behind St Benedicts.
St Benedicts were runaway champions, only losing one game, with their promotion capturing the imagination.
The spotlight will be swung and then focussed on the outfit from Mirehouse; they bring to the proceedings an air of Cumbrian mystery while the jungle drums suggest a warm reception awaits the visitors to Newlands Road.
How the season is going to pan out depends on a number of factors and variables.
A good starting point is an assessment of squad strength and as far as the Vale are concerned the overall unit remains much the same as the previous season.
Threequarter Charlie Lomas has departed while another absentee initially, will be skipper Dan Baines who will serving a four match suspension that was handed down following his involvement in the fracas that erupted at Leigh.
Brother Alex’s injury, which might have long term consequences, sustained at Crewe and Nantwich, is a further cause for concern.
Competition for places has been bolstered with the arrival from Kirkby Lonsdale of two threequarters, Chris Ramwell and Tom Slater, who both hit the ground running at Crewe and Nantwich.
After only making one appearance last season because of injury lock forward, Ben Charnley will return to the pack.
Without a doubt the seconds will be up against a number of teams packed with talent and expertise in the Cotton Traders Premier League and they know, from past experience, they will face stern tests throughout.
Last season the thirds deserved to be promoted to the County Courier Services Division Two North which appears on paper, to be a strong league comprising 10 second teams plus a first and third team.
The fourths, in the Rogerson HomeServe+ Division Four North will again meet some familiar opponents but there is a peppering of new rivals to contend with.
A distinguishing feature of all the senior sides are the large number of players who took their first faltering steps into the game at mini level before progressing to the juniors and colts, their skills being further honed at those secondary schools where rugby is part of the sporting curriculum. Sunday, September 4 is an important date for the mini junior section because from noon onwards the registration of players will be taking place.
New arrivals to the area, plus those who would like to sample the game for the first time, are most welcome to attend.
A new season awaits, excitement is building at all levels as the Vale celebrate their 70th anniversary of rugby being played at the Powderhouse Lane.