With tomorrow’s (Saturday 22nd April, KO 3pm) game the last one in the dug out for popular forwards’ coach Ben Woods, his charges will be hoping to give him a good send off and end the season on a high note as the Bees play host to Syston at Portway.
The last two sides met at Queniborough in the season curtain raiser on 3rd September. Tries by Tawanda Chipadza and Mikey Whettell in the last 10 minutes of the game salvaged a 16-16 draw, but left the Bees frustrated by their lacklustre performance following impressive pre-season outings.
Eight months on, the feeling of frustration somehow still lingers on. Although the Bees are assured of a fifth-place finish in the league and their campaign included an unbeaten 9 game run, they are 20 points shy of being in the promotion equation in the last Saturday of the season. An unsuccessful defence of the North Midlands Cup only adds to the impression of a season in which promise has been ultimately unfilled.
Syston make the journey across the M69with just pride to play for too, consigned as they already are to relegation as the league’s bottom basement side. Aside from their draw against the Bees in the season opener, they have mustered just five wins all season – at home to Lichfield, Longton and Nuneaton and away at Old Hales and Sandbach – with another draw at home to Sandbach. A haul of 5 bonus points (one less than their hosts on Saturday) has taken their tally to 29 points for the season.
Despite recent disappointments on the road at Sheffield and Peterborough, the Bees will be aiming not to allow that haul to be further increased come Saturday evening.
Pete Glackin and Ben Woods have a number of changes to the side that were beaten a fortnight ago up at Sheffield. Interestingly too, the squad named for tomorrow features just 8 players from the match day 18 named for the season opener. Two players – prop Kurtis Payne and flanker Ashley Scriven – have featured in every game.
Andrew Weaver, who has impressed throughout the season, moves to the back row where he will partner Matt Tibbatts and Ashley Scriven. Skipper Chris Goddard returns in the second row where he will pack down with Tom Greevy, with Foreman, Raimondi and Payne reunited in the “ABC” club.
Jack Jolly also return to partner Max Rodman in the half backs, with Ben Philips and Jimmy Oliver combing in the centres. Matt Dight, who scored up in Sheffield, starts at full back with Tawanda Chipadza and Jevon Hinds on the wings.
George Radburn, Reece Donaldson and Chris Fensome provide a youthful feel to the bench
In truth, the real NLM3 action will be elsewhere on Saturday. If Broadstreet beat Sandbach at home, they will bag the automatic promotion slot as league champions, coming into the game with a two-point lead on second place Sheffield (who play Bridgnorth at home). Nuneaton could still be champions if both Broadstreet and Sheffield falter without securing any bonus points and they prevail to the maximum against Longton.
At the other end of the table, the fate of Bedford Athletic is already sealed along with Syston. They will be joined by either Sandbach or Longton, with Longton coming into the last round with a two-point advantage over their rivals from Cheshire.
Whatever the permutations, a convincing home win for the Bees would be a fitting send off for Ben Woods, who has made a big impact in his short spell with the club. A bonus point win would also yield a season return of 78 points – 11 more and two places higher than last year’s season’s finish.
Before tomorrow’s game, a minute’s silence will be held in memory of former Bees’ President Paul Davidson who, sadly, passed away recently.
The Hornets also play their last game of the season at Portway on Saturday, welcoming Syston 2s. After the match, there will be a hog roast and end of season awards.
Updated 08:03 - 24 Apr 2017 by Richard Smith