HARTLEPOOL Rovers’ squad has been decimated ahead of one of the toughest league matches of the season.
The Rovers side, fresh from one of their results of the season, undergoes six changes – five enforced – to take on promotion challengers Consett at the Friarage (kick-off 2.15pm).
Tackling one of the best sides in Durham Northumberland One is a big enough ask without losing a third of the team which romped to an outstanding 32-10 win at Blackwell Meadows, where they smashed Darlington’s 100 per cent record.
Backs Liam Austwicke and David Grand are unavailable while up front Michael Tucker and Andrew Pinchen are injured with Danny Baxter not available.
Rovers are fortunate to be able to call on Chris Sainty to go in at full-back while Michael Barnfield is available as well so he slots in at centre.
It means Rovers switch Jack Gunn, who has started the season as skipper Ian Coulson’s partner in the midfield, reverts to his old haunt of wing.
Coaches Graham Puckrin and Carl Robinson make a change at stand-off, where James Evens starts at 10 after three weeks on the bench.
For all the changes, Rovers have a very strong midfield unit of Evens, Barnfield and Coulson, which could prove key against their opponents.
Every row of the scrum has an alteration to it. Veteran prop Glen Wise comes into the front row, while there is a double change at lock, where Dylan Langley is recalled and will play alongside the in-form Callum Whitehead.
The switch by Whitehead from back to second row means Tyrone Church starts at flanker.
Robinson told SportMail the catalogue of changes was “not ideal” but said the 18 players must rally together tomorrow.
“We know all about Consett and how good a side they are,” said Robinson.
“But we are Rovers and we are playing at the Friarage so we’ll get out there tomorrow and take them on.
“It is a shame we have lost so many of the players fromlast week’s great win but that is just how it is sometimes.
“We were over the moon last week with the lads – there was a totally different attitude from the week before against Durham City.
“We had a chance to kill them off and we did just that – unlike the week before against City.
“The lads came back from 10-0 down and beat them with some good rugby.
“And if it wasn’t for a couple of questionable forward pass calls then it could have been quite a few points more.
“It was a fabulous win, built on a top attitude and hopefully tomorrow’s side will carry that on.”
Rovers will be hoping to lay one of their ghosts to rest tomorrow.
Consett have become something of a bogey side to the Friaragemen, winning the last five meeting between the clubs – two coming in Durham Cup finals.
“We’ll go and give them a game, just like we did in the final in May,” added Robinson. “We took the on head on and came so close to beating them.”
Consett come to West View Road hurting following losing last week’s match of the day – Guisborough snatching second place from them after winning 39-15 at Belle Vue.
It ended an eight-match winning run by Consett, which included a five-week sequence when they scored 266 points.
“They have scored points for fun,” said Robinson. “I don’t know what happened to them last week, losing at home to Guisborough.
“But I’m not going to read too much into that.
“Tomorrow is about who plays best on the day and who adapts best to the conditions, which look like being heavy.”
Rovers: C Sainty, J Gunn, I Coulson (capt), M Barnfield, A Smith, J Evens, S Barnfield, A Flounders, K Maguire, G Wise, C Whitehead, D Langley, T Church, L Maddison, M Wilson. Subs: I Flounders, L Wood, D Fawcett