RUGBY PREVIEW: Ryton v Hartlepool Rovers

ROVERS RETURN: Darren Smith

ROVERS RETURN: Darren Smith

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HARTLEPOOL Rovers have been boosted by the return of an old favourite ahead of the resumption of the league programme.

Darren Smith has re-signed for Rovers from neighbours Boys Brigade Old Boys, though he will not feature in the squad for tomorrow’s trip to Ryton – should it beat the weather (kick-off 2.15pm).

The 33-year-old brings experience and expertise to the Rovers pack which coaches Graham Puckrin and Carl Robinson view as vital, not just for the remainder of the current campaign but next season too.

Smith, who can operate in the second or back rows, has twice been a promotion winner with Rovers and was also a key component of the squad which spent four seasons in North One East.

He joined Brigade in the summer of 2012, guiding the Durham Northumberland Three side to a league and cup double in the season, along with fellow coaches Gareth Foreman and Andrew Lilley.

Smith has remained close to Rovers, coaching the junior set-up, and more recently playing a couple of second and third-team matches when BBOB had no game.

“It’s great to have Darren back,” said Robinson.

“He is a fit lad who puts the work in and he will provide quite a bit of experience.

“Darren’s played a lot of years, including our seasons in North One East, and his know-how will be important.

“He’s under no illusions – he knows it’s going to be hard to win a place in the side, but I’m sure he’ll play his part here.”

Promotion looks to be out of Rovers’ reach this season, unless the top two, Morpeth and Guisborough, implode.

However, a top-four finish looks well within the Friarage outfit’s remit and with a league re-structure set for the summer of 2016, a high place next season will be crucial.

“People say ‘we need to be top eight next season’ to make sure we’re in a good league,” Robinson told SportMail.

“But my view is, don’t look for the top eight, let’s try to win it.

“We should be ambitious.

“We have a good squad and hopefully next season our injuries will not be like they have been this year.

“It is important we set out our stall for the remainder of this season to give us something to build on next time.”

Tomorrow looks a test, though prospects of play at a snowy Ryton look on the slim side, especially with more snow forecast.

Should Barmoor pass a pitch inspection, Robinson anticipates a difficult assignment even though it is third bottom against fourth top, the clubs separated by 32 points.

Ryton, coached by former West and Leeds star Jon Benson, have won four in a row at home and are in good form.

“It will be a hard game,” said Robinson. “Ryton walloped Darlington 52-7 last Saturday so we know they’ll be coming out hard at us.

“But if we play as we know we can, there is no reason why we can’t go there and get the result.”

Rovers miss forwards Anth Hanley and Lee Maddison with injuries, Dylan Langley and Matty Wilson coming into the starting XV.

David Grand and Ian Mulvihill come into the backs.

Rovers: L Austwicke, D Grand, I Mulvihill, J Gunn, A Smith, J Evens, S Barnfield, A Flounders (capt), K Maguire, M Tucker, D Baxter, D Langley, M Wilson, T Church, S Grazier. Subs: C Sainty, B Little, M Foster