Getting set for new-look campaign

Strong start - St Pat's and Leigh Miners kick off the new season with a derby
Strong start - St Pat's and Leigh Miners kick off the new season with a derby

AS the clubs get abck to training for the 2015 Kingstone press National Conference League, they can prepare for a tough start to their new fixture schedules.

The season kicks off on March 14 with the mouth-watering prospect of a derby as Leigh Miners Rangers play hosts to Wigan St Patrick’s at Twist Lane for the opening clash of the Premier Division season.

In a new look 12-team competition, the Premier Division sides will play four fewer games.

But with a top six play-off for the Grand Final and three clubs being relegated it is going to be one heck of battle for clubs to survive as the 22 rounds are played out to be completed on October 3.

In recent seasons the top six and relegation issues have been decided on the final weekend, and with 12 clubs battling for honours and safety, it seems set to provide an even more tightly fought finish.

Certainly those clubs with the bigger squads will be the ones who have the best chance of survival as the three years of summer rugby have indicated more squad players are used at each club than ever before. The Miners managed a fifth spot in 2014 but will be looking to improve on that position in 2015.

But they have a tough start with St Pat’s always proving a formidable opponent, before they head away to West Hull

in week two and then entertain promoted Rochdale Mayfield.

A trip to Division One Champions Oulton Raiders follows with Thatto Heath and then beaten NCL Grand Finalists Wath Brow Hornets in their first six outings. St Patrick’s first home game is on March 21 with a visit of Hull Dockers followed by East Leeds at Clarington Park the following weekend.

They then face Siddal away, then Wath Brow Hornets and Thatto Heath, both at home.

The NCL New Secretary, Alan Smith said: ”In the main the fixtures are home, away, home, away in sequence. But we have had a number of clubs who have asked for specific dates to be given home or away trips.

“This we have endeavoured to accommodate and that has resulted in clubs having a couple of occasions where they have consecutive home or away games. However no club should have more than two.”

The re-match between St Pat’s and Leigh Miners is on September 5 when both clubs will be hoping they are challenging for honours at the top end of the table.

For Wigan St Jude’s and Ince Rose Bridge, the Division One fixtures commence a week earlier on March 7, with the Bridge at home to Myton Warriors and St Jude’s heading off to Humberside to take on a side relegated alongside them last season, Skirlaugh. The early start is because there are 14 sides in Division One and therefore 26 League games to be played.

St Jude’s will enjoy their first home game the following week when entertaining Pilkington Recs from St Helens, while the Bridge’s first away trip is to Saddleworth Rangers. St Jude’s then take on Shaw Cross Sharks and home before travelling to Myton. Eccles at home follows before a trip to Normanton Knights.

Rose Bridge have Pilkingtons and York Acorn at home before travelling to Milford and Skirlaugh.

The all-Wigan derby will be in round 10 on May 30 at Parsons Meadow with the return at Pinfold Street on Saturday September 26 which is round 23.

In Division Two Leigh East start their campaign with a trip to newly promoted Underbank Rangers on March 14.

They follow that up with Ovenden and Castleford Panthers at home before traveling to Bradford Dudley Hill.

It is an extremely tough division, not least because of the travel involved, but East are determined to win promotion and begin their climb back to the top flight where they feel they belong.