It's a full round of fixtures from the National Conference League this week and season stories are starting to be written.
In the Premier Division there is little between the top five sides with West Hull leading the competition by a point despite losing at Hunslet Club Parkside last week. Wests have a less than straightforward-looking tie when they host improving Pilkington Recs. A fortnight ago they looked to be a team in trouble but successive wins over challengers Wath Brow Hornets and Lock Lane have lifted them. West Hull will have to be on guard.
Speaking of Hunslet Club Parkside, they continue a run of attractive fixtures with another home tie, this time Wath Brow Hornets are the visitors. Wath will have to keep a close eye on the inspirational McShane brothers who have ability aplenty, but while Brow themselves have rarely hit the heights they know that they can reach this season, they are still a decent side and one to be respected.
Free-scoring Lock Lane were brought down to Earth with a bump last week and will be hoping to avoid another upset defeat when they travel to Gillfoot Park to take on Egremont Rangers. Despite some patchy form so far this term, Rangers have some excellent players and the Castleford side will have to be on their mettle.
Another improving side is Thornhill Trojans and after a torrid start to the season, things are certainly picking up after they claimed their third win on the bounce last week against Siddal. Joel Gibson is a man in form for Trojans and Thatto Heath Crusaders will have to keep a close eye on the inspirational fullback if they are to maintain their own challenge. They have won five and drawn one of their first eight games of the league season, recovering well from an early cup upset loss at Lock Lane.
Siddal themselves will be looking for a return to winning ways having been pipped by Thornhill last week. They travel over to Rochdale Mayfield, another side that can certainly score points and they too will be looking to bounce back after a narrow loss at Leigh Miners Rangers last week. Will the Halifax side have enough to win their fifth game of the season or will Mayfield make up ground? It looks a well-matched game on paper.
Winless York Acorn have given their fans hope in recent weeks with battling losses against Hunslet Club Parkside and Thatto Heath Crusaders since the Easter break while after struggling for a number of weeks Leigh Miners Rangers have won through in close games against Egremont Rangers and Rochdale Mayfield. Again this looks like a well-matched tie, with plenty on the line.
Of all the NCL leagues, Division One is providing the most thrills and spills with four points separating top and eighth!
Recent weeks have seen regular changes at the top of the table as everyone jostles for position.
Featherstone Lions, who sprung the shock of the round by edging Wigan St Patricks away last time out, host West Bowling who bounced back into positive point difference in style to claim their fourth win of an inconsistent season against rock bottom Milford.
The current top two meet at the Willows in what looks like a mouth-watering tie. Hull Dockers have gone about their business quietly this year but have put some impressive form on the board with the likes of Dan Suddaby and Chris Heil going well while visitors Kells have rattled up 276 points in their first seven games. The Cumbrians have a host of young forwards and no shortage of firepower with Ross Gainford boasting a success rate of more than eighty percent with the boot.
Myton Warriors enjoyed a solid start to the campaign but their form has tailed off in recent times. They still boast some handy personnel, however, and one-time leaders Oulton Raiders, defeated by Stanningley last week will have to guard against them and any complacency when the sides meet at Marist.
Another mouthwatering game pits fifth-placed Stanningley against third-placed Ince Rose Bridge. This year Rose Bridge look like a team capable of posting points, indeed there are just two occasions when they have failed to score twenty points in a game. While Stanningley have faltered a couple of times, they too look a decent team this year and were very proud of restricting Oulton to just four points last week.
While the story at the top of the table develops, the bottom is no less compelling and Saddleworth Rangers go up against Milford to see if they can put a little more distance between themselves and the bottom club while you feel it's just a matter of time until the Leeds club comes good.
Division Two kicks off this evening with a St Helens and Wigan derby. Clock Face Miners and Wigan St Judes announced their game was being brought forward so that fans could enjoy the BetFred Challenge Cup Semi-final tomorrow and Judes will be looking to claim bragging rights after a 40-16 success over Bradford Dudley Hill last time out. It has been an improving picture for the Wigan side who lost their first three games of the season. Clock Face have also been going well although they were held to an exciting 10-10 draw with Heworth last week. A great game looks in prospect.
Bradford Dudley Hill are at the wrong end of the table and will be looking to right a few wrongs when they host Dewsbury Moor Maroons. The Dewsbury side will be hoping to put a run together to take them into play-off contention
Leaders Crosfields take on Bentley and the Warrington side are back on home soil and fresh from derby success last weekend. With Jack Fox in good scoring touch and Jack Lewis also impressing over recent weeks, Beverley meanwhile will look to get away from the bottom of the table in coming weeks.
Dewsbury Celtic enjoyed a surprise win over Normanton Knights last week and will hope to further dent the aspirations of Barrow Island. Island have shown some consistency so far this term to sit well in contention and have a number of dangerous players including free-scoring Max Anderson-Moore.
At the start of the year, Heworth held hopes of just competing in the division but have shown signs of becoming challengers. That tag goes on the line against Hunslet Warriors at the weekend for whom Tyler Dargan is a regular scorer and Warriors too have shown sign of life in recent weeks.
Woolston Rovers travel over the Graveyard to take on Normanton Knights and this looks like another attractive fixture to complete the section.
Two games stand out from the Division Three programme this week. The first of those is at Millom where West Cumbrians Seaton Rangers are visitors. Both sides were in good touch last week, with Millom winning a high-scoring clash against Leigh East and Seaton fending off the challenge of Waterhead Warriors.
Shaw Cross Sharks against Oldham St Annes is the other tie to look out for. Shaw Cross are fourth with five wins from their eight games so far while St Annes are currently second with a better point difference than their hosts and Seaton. Everyone in the competition is currently in the slipstream of East Leeds who powered their way to a 42-22 win over Shaw Cross last weekend and host Hensingham on Saturday.
Other games see Batley Boys host Leigh East, Bentley go to Drighlington and Waterhead at home against Eastmoor Dragons.
National Conference League Round Nine Fixtures:
- Egremont Rangers v Lock Lane
- Hunslet Club Parkside v Wath Brow Hornets
- Rochdale Mayfield v Siddal
- Thornhill Trojans v Thatto Heath Crusaders
- West Hull v Pilkington Recs
- York Acorn v Leigh Miners Rangers
- Featherstone Lions v West Bowling
- Hull Dockers v Kells
- Myton Warriors v Oulton Raiders
- Saddleworth Rangers v Milford
- Stanningley v Ince Rose Bridge
- Bradford Dudley Hill v Dewsbury Moor Maroons
- Clock Face Miners v Wigan St Judes
- Crosfields v Beverley
- Dewsbury Celtic v Barrow Island
- Heworth v Hunslet Warriors
- Normanton Knights v Woolston Rovers
- Batley Boys v Leigh East
- Drighlington v Bentley
- East Leeds v Hensingham
- Millom v Seaton Rangers
- Shaw Cross Sharks v Oldham St Annes
- Waterhead Warriors v Eastmoor Dragons