WEST Hartlepool get the new rugby season under way tomorrow with a daunting trip to Blaydon in the Durham Senior Cup (kick-off 2.30pm).
Iain Dixon and Peter Robinson’s team could not have picked a tougher curtain-raiser if they tried.
But West are relishing a match with “tough opposition” ahead of the start of the North One East programe at Northern on September 7.
West will go into the campaign with the same skipper, Dan Boatman, and essentially the same squad which was relegated from National Three North.
The two Andrews have left the club – Foreman and Davies and to the same location.
Foreman’s move to Boys Brigade Old Boys will have come as no surprise, given his younger brother Gareth is one of the player coaches at the Durham Northumberland Two side, while Davies did not really feature much at West last season.
The biggest loss has been Nathan Myers, who had an outstanding debut season. He has decided to join elder brother Aaron at Wharfedale.
Former Horden skipper Owen Bennett has become the latest player from Welfare Park to join West.
A back row or lock, Bennett impressed in last weekend’s practice matches against Durham City and Westoe at Hollow Drift.
West beat City by two tries to one in the two 25-minute halves while they saw off Westoe 3-2 in tries over the same format.
The latter scoreline will give the young side belief going into tomorrow’s visit to the Crowtrees.
Blaydon are the county’s best team, having finished a highly-impressive third in National One – the third tier in English rugby.
West director of rugby Kevan Oliphant said: “We don’t know what sort of side Blaydon are going to put out.
“Whoever they pick it’s going to be a very hard game but it’s good to get tough opposition just to see where we are.
“We’ll be using tomorrow as preparation towards the league programme.
“We did quite well last week up at Durham – we beat City and Westoe.
“Westoe had 40 players and played a second team against City and had the big boys out against us.
“We beat them two tries to nil in the second half and they did not really get into our 22, so that was pleasing.
“We’ve got a young squad who’ve worked really hard over the summer and the fitness levels are very high.”
One of the fittest is Liam Bailey, who is back after missing the whole of last season with a cruciate knee injury.
A livewire in either the back row or hooker, Bailey has decided to return to his first love and will play at centre tomorrow.
“He started as a centre,” said Oliphant. “We’re well off for hookers with Andrew Rollins and Andrew Dixon and we have any number of back rows.
“But we are less well off midfield backs wise so Liam will be in the mix there.”
Colin Cheslin is unavailable.
West (from): L Mallinson, G Edwards, S Butcher, P Youll, A Cheslin, L Bailey, T Armstrong, S Waites, R Painter, I Pinchen, A Rollins, A Dixon, R Wood, A Coates, M Hogan, O Bennett, J Myers, D Boatman (capt), J Boatman, S Miller, J Corbett, A Barker.