FIVE players who look set to play a major role in Hartlepool United's National League promotion drive

Aaron Cunningham in action for Pools earlier this season (Shutterpress).
Aaron Cunningham in action for Pools earlier this season (Shutterpress).

Less players, fitter individuals taking up the increased workload.

That's what Craig Hignett is looking to build at Hartlepool United next season.

The manager has been on record over the summer discussing the need for a tighter unit, with less focus on getting numbers through the door, and more focus on getting the best out of what is already at the club's disposal.

Finance and budgets mean that is set to be a core value of this squad.

Less senior numbers, even with increased quality, will place some of the burden on the youngsters within the ranks to step up, as injuries and suspensions will bite, especially in the unrelenting 46-game, two encounter-a-week National League.

So which youngsters can Hignett turn to this campaign, and who is expected to see more gametime?

Here our Pools writer Liam Kennedy takes a look at the five players, from the youth ranks, who can play an increasingly crucial role for Pools in 2019/20.

Brad Young/Ryan Catterick

You don't get too many goalkeepers like Scott Loach, who has started the last 100 games since his arrival.

And whether the keeper stays or goes, one, or both, of these two will likely be called upon to play for Pools next season.

Young is an interesting one.

He may only be 17, but he has high hopes and could well push Catterick all the way for the reserve jersey, with one likely to get some time out on loan.

On signing his first pro deal last week, he said: "I want to make my first-team debut somewhere down the line so I am going to do everything I can to give myself the best opportunity to do that."

Kenton Richardson

One of the fittest players in the Pools setup, right-back Richardson is liked a lot by the coaches at the club.

We are yet to really see the best of the player, who favours playing in a four at the back.

The club took up the option to give the player another year, and he will be needed with the club yet to sign an out-and-out right-back yet this summer.

Josh Hawkes

Might be a bit obvious mentioning Hawkes but it's easy to forget how young he is.

At just 20, he's yet to get a full season in the team under his best.

Breaking on the scene at the back end of the debut campaign in the National League, Hawkes has gone from strength to strength, even though he dipped in and out the side last season.

A strong January onwards saw him tear it up at this level. Now he needs to do it over 46 games.

And if he does, new pastures, much further up the pyramid, await.

Adam Bale

By all accounts, this lad has been flying.

Speaking about the club's summer fitness programme, new coach Jon Whitney said this about Bale: "Some of the lads will do too much and some of them may not do enough but it’s about trying to get that balance right.

"We know we have some players – the likes of Adam Bale – who we might have to put the reins on a little bit because there’s a chance he could over-train so it works both ways."

All you have to do is check the player out in the warm downs and warm ups. He tries his best to outperform everyone around him.

Has a tenacious streak, too. Just what Pools need in their midfield.

Aaron Cunningham

Hignett has gone with an experienced central defensive pair in Michael Raynes and Fraser Kerr. Carl Magnay could also be in the mix, so I'd expect Cunningham to fill in where needed across the back four.

Injury is his main weakness. If he can get fit and stay fit, he's a force to be reckoned with at this level.