Vale’s start not earth shattering despite three wins

Vale's Harm Dokter takes on Altrincham. Picture: Tony North.
Vale's Harm Dokter takes on Altrincham. Picture: Tony North.

Following the postponement of their North One West fixture at Broughton Park, Vale of Lune have found themselves sidelined for 21 days before hosting Douglas on Saturday.

The break in the action provided an opportunity to assess how the opening two months have panned out for Vale following their relegation from North Premier last season.

As luck would have it, Vale were granted the luxury of three home games to kick off their season, but overall the results from the first seven games have not been earth shattering with three victories, all against sides below them in the table.

However, in every game bar one, the home defeat by Penrith, 28-19, they have collected bonus points of some variety, which at the end of the season could play an important role.

But before the season could begin Director of Rugby, Jack Ferguson, club coach, Joel Unsworth, first team captain, Andy Powers, and club captain, James Hesketh, were faced with a massive challenge surrounding the playing strength throughout the club, and not just at first team level.

Since the end of the championship winning season of 2017/18 and the culmination of last season 20 plus players have either moved to other clubs, left the area or retired.

Prior to the Broughton Park fixture 34 players had represented the first team which included six debutants.

Prop Owen Branford and hooker Harm Dokter have both raised their game to meet the challenges that have come their way, while in the backs Callum Grieves, Harry Higginson, Taylor Mills and Ike Eastwood have all shown enormous promise but not all are available on a regular basis because of their university commitments.

Prop James Hesketh’s recovery programme is going according to plan, lock Adam Foxcroft, when available, always put in a full shift, while Steve Tagg has adjusted to the demands of life in the second row, Serbian International Tom Cvijanovic, who has returned from a year in Canada, quickly picked up the pace and slotted easily into a lively mobile eight.

While the pack has remained reasonably stable, the threequarters have been forced to rebuild virtually from scratch with only scrum half Billy Swarbrick being cast in the role of the last man standing. He has also posted four tries, two behind Jack Ayrton.

Full back Scott Manning has been safe as houses, while Michael Forrest, a young player of massive potential, has also impressed, already scoring four tries and kicked three conversions.

While the worries about returning to North One West with all its psychological baggage have not materialised, the Vale have plonked their feet under the table but their chair could be whipped away for those “Who hear November at the gate.”

In quick succession they face two clubs at home, Douglas and Wilmslow, who are currently in fourth and first place respectively followed by a trip to Birkenhead Park who presently reside in second spot, all these three clubs have only lost twice.

The pedigree of this trio suggests a severe examination awaits the Vale and at the end of the opening two months a pecking order is usually beginning to emerge.