HORDEN boss Glenn Bowman insists tomorrow’s Durham Northumberland One derby at Hartlepool Rovers is not a forgone conclusion.
The head coach has been at pains to play down his side’s status as title favourites, pointing out that it is “very early days” and a “hard league”.
But the league table shows Horden on top with two wins out of two and having score over 120 points already, recording 60s at Consett and against Novos.
There is an air of invincibility but Bowman believes tomorrow’s visit is far from a straight-forward exercise.
“Some people might see us as favourites going into the game given the last two results,” he said.
“But in derby games like this, it is about who turns up on the day.
“You’ve only got to go back to last season, we’d just had a big win away to Stockton and then played Rovers at home.
“They made life really difficult for us.
“Horden v Rovers are always hard, physical games, I can’t see tomorrow being any different.”
Horden are boosted by the return of Richie Thirkell after serving a two game ban following a sending off at West.
Powerful and mobile, the Durham county forward will be a central figure in a full-strength front row with Gareth Malcolm and Gavin Davidson.
“It’s great to have Richie available again, “ said Bowman.
“He’s the worst spectator in the world when he’s not playing!
“The way he plays the game he’ll bring extra physicality and greater mobility to the pack.”
Bowman has recalled the in-form centre pairing of Andy White and Davey Smith, with Luke Watson continuing in his original position of scrum-half.
“The lads who came in last week did really well and there some difficult choices that had to be made at selection this week,” said the coach.
“Luke (Watson) has done well since he moved to scrum half.
“He’s a strong lad and plays like a back row in defence, that’s going to be really important for us given how I expect Rovers to play.”
While Horden have been boosted by the return of three key players, Rovers have suffered a double blow.
Prop Andrew Flounders, a revelation since his promotion to the first team last season, is out with a knee injury while Kevin Maguire, who has made a superb switch from back row to hooker, has been suspended for 12 weeks after a county disciplinary meeting.
He was cited along with an opposition player after fighting during the win over Durham City on the opening league Saturday of the programmme.
Rovers are at least able to call on an excellent replacement, last season’s captain Jon Cushlow returning to the number two jersey.
Michael Tucker, who left Rovers for Acklam last season, comes in for Flounders having re-signed for Rovers.
Joint coach Carl Robinson said “It is good to have Michael back – he has been training the last couple of weeks and captained the Heughers last Saturday.”
Robinson and fellow coach Graham Puckrin have recalled former skipper Mark Power to add some vital strength and experience to the pack.
Rovers have made a double change on the wings, naming seasoned campaigners David Grand and Ben Cushlow, while James Evens resumes in the centre.
The West View Road side are boosted by the return of gifted full-back Liam Austwicke while Steven Barnfield comes back into the squad after recovering from injury.
He is joined on the bench by prop Ben Little, who is back from a spell in the USA, and Matty Wilson.
Robinson agrees with Bowman that tomorrow’s contest is hard to predict.
“Horden have had a massive start to the season, but it’s a derby, it’s bound to be nip and tuck,” said the coach who says Rovers cannot afford to start tomorrow as loosely as they did at Guisborough last Saturday.
“We gave them a 17-point start in the first 15 minutes.
“We’ve drilled into the lads that we can’t afford any more repeats of that.”
Rovers: L Austwicke, D Grand, J Evens, C Sainty, B Cushlow, M Barnfield, T Pelser, M Tucker, J Cushlow, G Wise, M POwer, A Pinchen, S Grazier, L Maddison, A Dring (capt). Subs: B Little, M Wilson, S Barnfield.
Horden: D Heckles, C Jones, D Smith, A White, H Cox, A Turner, L Watson, G Malcolm, R Thirkell, G Davidson, M Thubron (capt), P Malcolm, C Wood, N Turton, P James. Subs: M Thompson, A Stott, D Bains