SEMLA Preview 15/16
Spencer, who have won the League and Flags double for the last two years, remain the team to beat in 2015/16 and the Earlsfield club is determined to defend its silverware and win more this season.
Undefeated last year, they look strong again with a production line of quality recruits from universities, other clubs and their junior programme.
Competition for places will again be fierce despite losing Tim Holdsworth who has returned to Timperley and Cam Leslie who will also be playing for the Cheshire club during his degree course at Manchester University.
Tom Leahy co-captains with Joe Darkins, who has just returned from a successful England campaign at the World Indoor Lacrosse Championships, and both will ensure that Spencer’s high standards will stay in place.
But the Prem has a much more competitive feel this year with Purley gathering talent and Cardiff aiming to make the most of their promotion back to the elite level.
“We know there will be a lot of teams biting at our heels this year so we won’t be able to relax,” says Leahy. “We’ve set the bar very high and that presents its own demands but we’ve got a mix of guys who have been there and ones that are motivated for success so I don’t see us being any weaker than last year.
“We’ve got a few exciting next players coming in from Loughborough and Bristol unis so it will be interesting to see how they fit in.”
Spencer are Stockport 8s champions but fell in the semis to Cheadle at the Bath 8s so they need another cycle of trophy gathering to have the full house. The European Championships title, currently held by Stockport, is also a firm target.
“We will continue to push ourselves and we are expecting a very competitive calendar. We start off at home to Hitchin and they are always a well organised side and have that core of Welsh national players so it will be a good early test.”
Runners-up Blues, captained by keeper Stuart McGregor Dallas, will be strong again, also profiting from the University production line and some US students. Matt Bagley’s appearances may be limited by his new commitment coaching the German national team but the potent engine room of Matt Birkett and Dave Howie remains in full working order.
Ex-Plymouth Uni face off Joe Hunt joins the powerful midfield unit which will be channelling possession towards a James Kidd-lead offensive unit.
“We’ve had a few changes but we are happy with our line up and are ready to go,” said McGregor Dallas, who is hoping to recover from injury in time for this Saturday’s opener against Hillcroft, who are smarting from two early season one-goal defeats
East Grinstead are looking to push on from their mid-table showing last year and aim to build a dangerous side around returning goalie Andy Price, who takes the captain’s armband.
The defensive unit will look even stronger with the return of defender Nick Blackwell. Further optimism comes from Tony Joseph, Matt Baldwin, Jack Foster and Connor Dockery’s success at the World box champs
“We are looking pretty good this season with the four guys coming back from Canada in good shape and a couple of other players back from uni. We will be looking at being more competitive this season,” said Price
“We have never had an LDO and don’t really rely on star players and concentrate on having a solid team. We normally go into games as underdogs but we are capable of pulling off some good results.
“We have good team ethic and determination and I think anyone who plays us know that will face commitment from the first to final whistle.”
Face-off prospect Tomos Rosser will travel down from Loughborough to boost the team and his place in the Welsh national squad.
Purley’s recent basement tenancy may be about to end as the club looks to do way more than cling onto Premiership survival this season. They have recruited strongly and got the prize scalp of Epsom’s captain and face-off maestro Dave Baldwin along with another Eagle James Keal. A more youthful line-up with talented graduates should help them claw away from the relegation scrap that has blighted recent seasons.
Hampstead will keep the league, and themselves, guessing as they try to nail down a consistent line up from a talented roster. Look out for occasional appearances from Albany marksman Will Stenberg and Australian international Will Pickett in a line-up that can sparkle but also splutter with availability issues. Matt Hillman, from Wheaton College, is a potent acquisition and hopes to play the lion’s share of the season.
Hillcroft continues to grow as a club with three strong teams and a genuine chance of taking Spencer and Blues all the way.
Coach Brian Potter has got them ticking and their youthful line up, lead by Wales attacking star Eion Dunne and featuring Zak Jordan’s playmaking, will be chasing game composure to transform their talent into points.
Reading were hit hard in the close season with eight first team squad members departing. But returning players from Unis and recruits from Bristol and Exeter have given them hope.
“We’ve had massive changes and it was looking bleak but, although a little rough around the edges and lacking experience, we have the makings of a very good team,” said captain Paul Milner.
They edged Hillcroft 7-6 in the first game, arranged early to fit in tours, which provided a welcome boost but went down 12-8 to Hitchin last week in the Flags despite leading by a goal at half time.
“The first game against Hillcroft was typical with them dominating possession while we never gave up and defended like mad then making it count when we had the ball,” added Milner. “The Hitchin game was a really good back and forth contest between two teams that have changed a lot since last season. We should have been further ahead after dominating the 2nd Quarter and that came back to haunt us as Hitchin took control in the 3rd with some slick passing goals.
“But there were still lots of positives from the game.”
The true test of pre-season scheming and hoping comes this Saturday as the full programme begins with a series of intriguing match-ups.
Hampstead v Bristol Bombers (1:00pm)
Purley v Harlequins
Reading v East Grinstead
Spencer v Hitchin
Blues v Hillcroft