RUGBY PREVIEW: Hartlepool Rovers v Stockton

ROVERS RETURN: Lee Maddison. Picture by JOE SPENCE
ROVERS RETURN: Lee Maddison. Picture by JOE SPENCE

HARTLEPOOL Rovers can take a step closer to sealing a top-four place in Durham Northumberland One by winning tomorrow’s derby with Stockton at the Friarage (kick-off 2.15pm).

Rovers currently occupy fourth spot in the table but Stockton are breathing down their necks in fifth, just three points behind.

There has been little to choose this season between the neighbours and rivals – both have won 11 times with Rovers scoring 438 points to Stockton’s 435.

Rovers have the edge by virtue of registering three more bonus points than the Norton outfit.

Coaches Graham Puckrin and Carl Robinson will be looking to see their side come good tomorrow after last weekend’s 8-7 defeat at lowly Ryton.

“It’s an important game,” Robinson told SportMail. “It will be hard – Stockton have had a very good season and are just a few points behind us.

“But it’s an ideal chance for us to open up a gap between us if we can get the win.

“Last Saturday was awful and the lads got a bit of a flea in their ears afterwards so hopefully they’ll turn it around tomorrow.

“We were lacking ideas and were a little bit clueless, it was just one of those days when whatever we tried just didn’t come off.

“I think it showed we were lacking leaders and experience.

“It was a disappointing day but we’ll dust ourselves down and go again.”

Rovers will be looking to prove a point after they gifted Stockton the win in the meeting at Station Road last October.

The Friaragemen roared into a 14-0 lead only to throw it away, losing 23-14.

“At 14 points up, you really should put a game to bed,” admitted Robinson. “Certainly no way should you end the match with no points at all.

“We got bullied out of it up front, especially in the ruck area.

“We did a lot of contact work on Tuesday night and there were a lot of sore bodies.

“Hopefully we’ll learn our lesson from that day at Stockton and learn from last Saturday at Ryton.

“If we learn from our mistakes then we have something to build on and we can improve.”

Rovers are boosted by the return of flanker Lee Maddison after missing the last two Saturdays.

There are three further changes with centre Chris Sainty and prop Ben Little promoted to the starting XV while Darren Smith makes his first Rovers appearance since 2012 in the second row after his transfer from BBOB.

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