By Liam Hammond
Huddersfield’s charge towards promotion back to League 2 North begins this weekend with the arrival of Billingham to Lockwood Park. Despite the supposed changes to the senior squad there will be only two league debuts this weekend for Elliot Hodgson at Full back and Tom Hodson at fly half. The rest of the squad is made up by players who finished last season and a number of other who are returning after long term injuries.
A hard pre-season has seen wounds licked and new life thrust into the club. The club prioritised an extensive summer recruitment drive at all levels. The new focus has changed from the attitude of “first team comes first” to “rugby for all”. The squad is more united, fitter, driven and the club is generally a happier place to enjoy rugby.
The emphasis now is to create a united club, with all grades of Rugby receiving the same levels of nurturing, pushing in the same direction for success at all levels. One example is the recruitment of new Falcons coach Phil Gostling. Gostling, who has previous experience coaching at Northampton Saints and Cambridge will take charge of the Falcons outfit (Huddersfield Second XV), helping to ensure the players below the First XV are well prepared for a potential call up.
Emphasis on attracting players for age grade Rugby has seen attendance for first team games continue to be FREE for kids. This week against Billingham the club is also offering 50% of entry for all adults with the Age Grade discount voucher, this means families can watch for as little as possible. First team manager Lee Paxman keen to attract as many potential age grade participants as possible: “This is a club for everyone and our ambition to have as many sides as possible to provide a platform so all players can enjoy rugby at their own individual highest potential.”
Creating a united front and re-building the club from the ground up, was seen as the only way to eradicate any negativity surrounding Huddersfield RUFC following a season of heavy under-achievement. A hard fought loss to the Preston Grasshoppers and an away day victory at National 2 side Dudley has seen the First Team build on the momentum garnered through a positive summer break.
This weekend’s fixture against Billingham will prove to be a much sterner test for the club but Paxman is confident in the ability of his new look squad: “ We have come a long way in such a short space of time but we have lot further to go. We will not get arrogant or complacent but we are excited about the season ahead.”
As Huddersfield look to the future, the link between the senior squad and the junior age groups could not be more evident. This weekend will see Harry Lewis, son of coach Gareth Lewis lead out the first team as club mascot, utilising his youthful exuberance to inspire the old heads. Huddersfield are looking to move forward, ensuring sporting success at the highest level is retained whilst nurturing a burgeoning age grade department. Change was clearly needed at the club, only over the course of this season will we find out whether the desired effect will be achieved.
1st XV vs Billingham
1. Alex Battye, 2. Ben Morrill, 3. Antony Stringwell, 4. Gavin Rhodes, 5. George Hinchliff, 6. Gareth Lewis, 7. Ben Hoyle, 8. Nick Sharpe, 9. Joel Hinchliffe, 10. Tom Hodson, 11. Ben Mitchell, 12. Tom Owen, 13. Michael Clark, 14. Luke Booth, 15. Elliot Hodgson, Subs:16. Laurence Sanderson, 17. Nick Rhodes, 18. Howard Hanks