RUGBY PREVIEW: West Hartlepool v Ilkley

IN-FORM: West Hartlepool forward Sam Miller on the ball. Picture by Tom Collins.

IN-FORM: West Hartlepool forward Sam Miller on the ball. Picture by Tom Collins.

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WEST Hartlepool have returned to the top half of North One East – now their next task is to kick on.

West spent much of last season at the business end of the table, finishing third, though some way behind champions Cleckheaton and runners-up Huddersfield YMCA.

Iain Dixon and Peter Robinson’s side look in good shape for a challenge this time around after starting with three wins from four last month.

West start what could prove a key month with a sixth against ninth battle with league new boys Ilkley tomorrow at Brinkburn (kick-off 3pm).

Dixon and Robinson would argue there is no such thing as an easy game – or an easy month.

Yet, West start a run of matches against teams below them in the league – Ilkley (ninth), Northern (12th), Horden (14th) and Driffield (seventh) – and the opportunity is there to move forward.

“I’d love to see us pick up 15 points over the next few weeks,” Dixon told SportMail.

“But I’m a firm believer in taking each Saturday as it comes.

“I don’t like to look too far ahead, you can lose focus if you do that.

“Ilkley is the only thing on my mind, looking to win the five points and keep our 100 per cent home record going. Then we can move on.”

Ilkley will not be an easy side to beat – they won Yorkshire One last year, losing only twice.

This season they have won both home games while losing close-run matches at the top two of Dinnington and Sheffield.

West go into the game buoyed by their first away win, 25-17 at Old Crossleyans, never the easiest of venues to bring points back from.

There was much to admire from the performance as they fought back from a whirlwind start by Crocs to take charge of the game.

The forwards earned top marks from the power exerted by the front row of Ian Pinchen, Andrew Rollins and Adam Coates, to Owen Bennett in the line-out and Pinchen, Sam Miller and, especially, skipper Dan Boatman in the loose.

“We put a lot of pressure on them,” said Dixon. “The line-out was excellent, with the partnership of Rollo and Bennett working so well.

“The big ball carriers did a lot of yards, especially Pin storming over the gain line time and again.

“A special mention must go to the front row as we dominated the scrum and I thought Dan was outstanding, he truly led from the front.”

Dixon will want a repeat from all the players tomorrow.

West have been forced to make two changes to last week’s side.

Full-back Zac Southern is out with a calf strain, so Luke Mallinson switches from wing to number 15 with Matty Tyers coming in out wide.

In the pack, Boatman has shaken off a knock to start but his back row comrade Alex Barker is missing due to work commitments.

West though have the luxury of welcoming back Chris Atkins, who missed last week’s win in Halifax.

Joe Rafferty will continue in the second row alongside Bennett.

West: L Mallinson, S Butcher, L Bailey, P Youll, M Tyers, S Waites, R Painter, I Pinchen, A Rollins, A Coates, J Rafferty, O Bennett, C Atkins, D Boatman (capt), S Miller. Subs: A Foreman, J Angus, L Chapman