Huddersfield YMCA are set for an exciting finish to the season as they bid to seal back-to-back promotions but have been warned not to drop their North I East standards against Sheffield at Laund Hill on Saturday.
Coach Jody Shaw’s side confirmed their place in the April 26 promotion play-off final with a hard-fought victory over West Hartlepool, so they’ll have a shot at reaching national level for the first time in their history whatever happens from now.
Shaw, however, is keen not to let momentum slip in the final three matches of the regular season and plans to give some of the fringe squad members chance to put pressure on those who have guided the club to second place in the table behind champions-elect Cleckheaton.
That starts against Sheffield (3.00) when there’s a big reshuffle of the pack and some new faces on the bench.
“April 26 will be the climax to our season, but we have a job to do against Sheffield and it’s all about building consistency up to that date,” said Shaw, who is awaiting the results of further scans on Tom Sharrock’s eye-socket injury.
“We don’t want anyone dropping their standards and then trying to lift them in a month’s time. We have to build a platform between now and then which will ensure we are in the best possible shape for the play-off game.”
It’s likely YM will face Birkenhead Park on the 26th for a shot at promotion to National III North, as they are now favourites to finish runners-up in North I West after losing to Wirral (although there are also three games left on that side of the Pennines as well).
“When you look at the fact we’ve come from the bottom reaches of Yorkshire II, through Yorkshire I and are now at this stage in a division where people thought we would have to scrap just for survival, then it’s a fantastic prospect to have the play-off final to look forward to,” added Shaw.
“We don’t want to let all our hard work go to waste, though, so it’s important we stay focused and realise we have a job to do against Sheffield.
“Yes, we can look at different combinations and different personnel, giving people a chance to stake their claim at the business end of the season, but the important thing is we build on our momentum and don’t think we can step off the gas.”
Josh Wrafter is in at hooker against Sheffield, Sam Slater steps up to the front row and Josh Lumb goes in to No8 with Mark Whitehead at flanker, Sharrock missing out with his suspected fractured eye socket.
Stuart Dyke gets a starting shirt in the second row because James Bell (knee) is being rested, while Jack Housley is back after injury on the bench, alongside Tom Bulloch and Omar Sharaf, who will make his debut at senior level.
“Omar joined us last June and has played a lot of rugby in the Thirds and Seconds, so now he’s got the chance to taste what first-team rugby is about,” added Shaw.
“He is a big, strapping lad at 6ft 4in and solid build and he has a chance now to stake his claim, not just for the remaining games this season but for the future as well.”
YMCA – Johnson, Stead, Ryder, Barber, Bentley, Wood, Wilson, Slater, Wrafter, Dyke (Ste), Robertson, Dyke (Stu), Whitehead, Hodge, Lumb. Bench: Bulloch, Housley, Sharaf.
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