THE 2019 Kingstone Press National Conference League kicks off on Saturday (23 February) with attention focusing entirely on the bottom tier.
Action is taking place solely in Division Three, with the Premier Division, Division One and Division Two all swinging into action on Saturday 2 March.
The spotlight this weekend will be on the three `new’ teams in the competition, with Batley Boys, Hensingham and Heworth set to make their debuts at, respectively, Hunslet Warriors, Woolston Rovers and Eastmoor Dragons.
Pete Bingham of Batley, who have joined the NCL from the Yorkshire Men’s League, told League Express: “There’s a buzz of excitement around the club with what’s to come and everyone is happy and proud to be the first Batley side in the NCL.
“Hunslet Warriors is always a difficult place to go to but everyone is chomping at the bit to get to the first game and see what happens and how we go in our new adventure.
“The team are ready for the obstacles we will have to face and to see how we fare against new opposition. The trips to Cumbria, Newcastle and other places will be a new thing for us and everyone is up for the challenge!”
“The main thing for us throughout this season is to enjoy every minute,” he added.
Meanwhile, the general view around the shires is that Heworth are back where they belong.
Having been inaugural champions of what was then the National League, in 1986-87, the York outfit suffered from indifferent form as the second decade of the 21st century arrived, and withdrew from the NCL after only one match of the 2015 campaign.
But Heworth have regrouped in the Yorkshire Men’s League and return to the Conference as champions of the YML’s First Division under Head Coach Scott Rhodes, who is back at his junior club after a professional career embracing Leeds, Sheffield Eagles and York.
Long-serving Secretary Ken Sykes, who was a member of the side that topped the competition 32 years ago, said: “It’s good to be back. Spending four seasons in the Yorkshire League has done us a lot of good, allowing us to regroup and rebuild.
“It’s only four years since we were in the Conference but there’s been quite a few changes, we’re not sure of the standards, and it may take us a while to find our feet.
“We’ve got some good players and hopefully we’ll be ok. The lads are certainly up for it, the feeling in the camp is certainly good, and I think it’s a case of `suck it and see’.”
Heworth have made plenty of friends over the years and it’s perhaps appropriate that their first game is at old rivals Eastmoor, where Sykes and colleagues such as Barry Foster will renew acquaintance with the likes of Robert Nicholson, Dave Roberts and `Pally’ Lindop. And the games with Millom later down the line will offer more opportunities to chew over old times.
Saturday 23 February 2019
DIVISION THREE: Eastmoor Dragons v Heworth; Gateshead Storm v Oldham St Anne’s; Hunslet Warriors v Batley Boys; Leigh East v Drighlington; Millom v Waterhead Warriors; Salford City Roosters v Dewsbury Celtic; Woolston Rovers v Hensingham.
FRIENDLIES: Askam v Egremont Rangers; Bradford Dudley Hill v Farnley Falcons.