WEST Hartlepool kick off the most important three weeks of the season tomorrow with a North-East derby with Northern.
Providing the weather does not intervene, West will host the Newcastle side in a crucial eighth v ninth confrontation in North One East.
Both sides are locked on 38 points and Northern arrive at Brinkburn – which currently has a light dusting of snow – with an identical record as their hosts of eight wins and a draw from 17 matches.
The clubs are only four points above the drop zone and West coaches Iain Dixon and Peter Robinson realise the magnitude not only of tomorrow’s game but subsequent league games against Horden (A) and Driffield (H).
And the target is simple – three wins from three.
“We’ve got Northern, Horden and Driffield in our next three games, teams who are all below us in the table,” Robinson told SportMail.
“The top and bottom of it is we’ve got to win all three and score some points.
“We can’t afford to be dragged into a relegation dogfight.
“There are only six points between Pocklington in seventh and Driffield who are third bottom.
“We have to win our home games and our record at Brinkburn over the last couple of years has been pretty good.
“Northern are in a bit of form, they have beaten Dinnington and Wheatley Hills in the last two weeks which is no mean feat.
“But both games were at home and when they go away they do not perform as well.
“We’ve got to turn them over.
“It’s absolutely crucial we beat those three teams and get good points from all.”
For all West have a good record on home soil and Northern are not the most prolific away from McCracken Park – just two wins on the road – tomorrow’s match is no walkover.
Northern hammered West 43-13 back in October – the Brinkburn side’s heaviest defeat of the season – and have won four of their last six outings.
Should the game beat the weather, West’s pack will be crucial.
“Hopefully, if there is no more snow, it will go ahead,” said Robinson. “But it will be a bit heavy underfoot.
“That could work more to our advantage.
“Obviously, the set-pieces are going to be really, really vital.
“Our scrum has done well all season and it is going to be important tomorrow.
“It is important we get our line-out right. We concentrated on that last night at training.
“It’s no good us getting into good areas to attack from if we lose our line-out ball.”
West are boosted by the return of full-back and key attacker Stuart Waites, who has recovered from a shoulder problem, while number eight Sam Miller is also fit to resume.
The resumption of Waites means Luke Mallinson switches to the wing with Callum Johnston stepping down to the bench – after a good start to First XV duties – where he is joined by Liam Bailey who makes way for Miller.
Ian Pinchen is unavailable, so Adam Coates links up with Ross Wood and Andrew Rollins in the front row.
West: S Waites, L Mallinson, S Butcher, P Youll, K Jamieson, Z Southern, R Painter, R Wood, A Rollins, A Coates, O Bennett, J Rafferty, C Atkins, D Boatman (capt), S Miller. Subs: M Hogan, L Bailey, C Johnston