RUGBY PREVIEW: Stockton v Hartlepool Rovers


DO you want to go out on a high or with a whimper?

That is a question coach Graham Puckrin has asked his Hartlepool Rovers squad ahead of their season’s run-in, which starts with a derby at Stockton (kick-off 3pm).

Puckrin, fellow coach Carl Robinson and assistant Michael Ainslie, want to see Rovers finish strongly in Durham Northumberland One and in the Durham Intermediate Cup.

At present, the Friaragemen have five games left in the league - four of them away from West View Road - while they have been drawn away to Division Two championship favourites Ryton.

Seventh place, the half-way spot, is probably the best Rovers can hope for, but Puckrin says it’s more important how they finish rather where they finish.

“Training went well last night, the lads looked sharp,” Puckrin told SportMail.

“We spoke afterwards how the rest of the season could go one way or the other.

“We could just amble our way up to the finish line or we could push on and do well.

“We’ve got a hard run-in with four of our last five games away and a cup game at Ryton, who are playing very well.

“It’s a tough sequence and we have to go to Darlington and Durham City.

“But I think all the game are winable.

“We might not be able to do better than seventh but I want to see us put together a great finish which would set us up for pre-season and then next season.

“Carl, Mick and myself know we have good players.

“There is talent and with some hard work from the lads we are confident instead of being top seven we could be top two or three.”

First up though is a trip to Norton for a derby with neighbours Stockton.

The clubs have enjoyed a fierce rivalry over the last quarter of a century, first with some classic Durham Cup confrontations and more recently in North One East and Durham Northumberland One.

Stockton have experienced a difficult season but have beaten the sides below them in the table to make sure they are not sucked into a relegation battle.

A home win over Guisborough and a close defeat at Darlington proves, on their day, Stockton can still play and Puckrin says Rovers will be on their guard.

“Stockton is always a hard place to go,” he said.

“We will take nothing for granted. They will want to beat us at their place.

“We have done well recently and beaten teams below us in the table like Bishop Auckland, Gosforth and Novos.

“Sometimes, games like that have been banana skins but we’ve won our last few games and rattled up a few points.

“The forwards and backs are playing with confidence and we’d like to keep that going.”

Andrew Dring is back in the starting line-up after an injury-plagued mid-season.

The skipper came off the bench in the 32-5 win over Novos and he replaces two-try Stewart Grazier, who is unavailable due to work commitments.

Anth Hanley is also working so Andrew Pinchen comes into the second row.

The back division remains unchanged from the victory over the Newcastle side.

Rovers include new signing Liam Wood in the squad following his move from Seaton Carew.

The flanker joins Danny Cookland and Taz Pelser on the bench.

“I think Liam played in the backs at Seaton but he wants to play back row,” said Puckrin. “He came over a month or two back and he’s never missed a training session.

“I watched him play for the seconds last Saturday against Gateshead in the CaNDY League and he had a cracking game.

“Dringy played in that game too to get some game time and they linked up well.

“With Disco [Grazier] away, we thought why not shot Liam in the first-team squad. He deserves a go.”

Rovers: L Austwicke, J Gunn, D Grand, I Coulson, A Smith, J Evens, S Barnfield, A Flounders, J Cushlow, G Wise, A Pinchen, D Langley, M Wilson, L Maddison, A Dring (capt). Subs: D Cookland, L Wood, T Pelser