Rugby preview: West Hartlepool v Doncaster Wheatley Hills

SAFE PAIR OF HANDS: Owen Bennett wins a line-out for West v Cleckheaton at Brinkburn.
SAFE PAIR OF HANDS: Owen Bennett wins a line-out for West v Cleckheaton at Brinkburn.

WEST Hartlepool may be out of the promotion reckoning.

But director of rugby Kevan Oliphant will not accept seeing West turn off for the rest of the season.

West play host to Wheatley Hills tomorrow at Brinkburn as they enter the home straight of the North One East season (kick-off 3pm).

Defeat at Alnwick last Saturday – their seventh away loss – has ended any aspirations for a late run on the play-off spot.

It is not a mathematic impossibility – far from it – but they are not going to overhaul Huddersfield YMCA’s 12-point lead with just six fixtures remaining.

But four of the remaining matches are at Brinkburn – starting with the visit of Wheatley Hills tomorrow.

Oliphant will not be amused should West suddenly just give up for the remaining two months of the programme.

“I don’t think that will be the case,” he told SportMail.

“We had 24 players out training on Tuesday and 30 last night.

“It was disappointing to lose, but everything has been positive this week.

“We are not definitely out of the promotion reckoning although there is quite a gap and Huddersfield YMCA would have to suffer a big loss of form.

“Given they are the form team and beat Cleckheaton last week, it is a tall order.

“We must keep going but I’m more concerned we go out and win our remaining home games.

“We have Wheatley Hills tomorrow, then Sheffield, Pocklington and Morpeth.

“They are all winable games if we play like we know we can at Brinkburn.

“If we can get some points on the road too, we can have a good end to the season.

“If we can get six wins that would be outstanding, but we must focus on tomorrow before we think about anything else.”

Wheatley Hills do not appear to pose any great threat given their mid-table position – seventh with nine wins from 20 outings.

Once one of the league’s physically intimidating sides – who could forget the 2012 battle of Brinkburn which was almost abandoned – they do not possess the same brute force of times gone by.

They are minus Gareth Burns, their talisman and feared try machine, who is serving a three and a half year suspension for deliberately running into a referee.

However, the Doncaster side, 30-22 winners over West in the autumn, cannot be discounted.

Four of their nine league victories have been away from Brunel Road while they pushed play-off favourites Huddersfield YMCA very close, losing just 8-7.

“They have been steady this season,” said Oliphant. “They have always had a big robust pack who like to keep play tight.

“But conditions are getting quite firm and fast again – Brinkburn is in fantastic nick at the moment.

“Our form on the firm grounds earlier in the season was very good and if we can recapture that sort of play, hopefully we can get a good home win tomorrow.”

West are still minus skipper Dan Boatman who has a shoulder injury, with brother Jonny continuing to lead the side.

Owen Bennett, unavailable last weekend, resumes in the pack tomorrow and will be a key figure.

In the backs, West welcome back Scott Butcher who replaces Scott Jamieson on the wing.

West are minus leading scrum-halves, Ryan Painter and David Tighe with youngster and old master both unavailable.

The highly-versatile Colin Cheslin is handed the number nine jersey.

The 27-year-old has played everywhere along the backline, apart from stand-off and Oliphant has no qualms about selecting Cheslin.

“We have no worries about Col,” he said. “He’s a good all-round player.

“He played there as a youngster and played at nine at Waterloo last season and did really well.”

West: L Mallinson, S Butcher, A Cheslin L Bailey, P Youll, S Waites, C Cheslin, I Pinchen, A Rollins, A Coates, M Hogan, O Bennett, A Turner, J Boatman (capt), S Miller. Subs: A Dixon, J Corbett, J Angus, D Thomas