AFTER two seasons of curtailments, the new rugby union campaign gets underway this week for Northwich and Winnington Park.

Cheshire Cup action precedes the league campaign getting underway, with Northwich heading to Birkenhead Park tonight, kick-off 6.30pm, and Winnington hosting Lymm tomorrow, Friday, kick-off 7.30pm.

Northwich face a huge challenge this season having been promoted to level five.

As club chiefs point out, only six teams in an area between Carlisle and Dudley west of the Pennines play at a higher level – and one of them is Sale Sharks.

With Preston Grasshoppers first to visit Moss Farm on September 4 and a home match against Macclesfield to follow, it could not be a bigger or more exciting start to the league campaign for Northwich.

The enforced break has brought some squad changes, including skipper Matt Poste deciding that the ‘one last season’ wasn’t compatible with career and family responsibilities, while prop Mike Bradshaw and Phil Williams have moved out of the area.

Nevertheless, there are lots of options open to new head coach Andy Roberts and he has given those players that came up from colts rugby plenty of opportunities to catch the eye during pre-season matches.

Richard Dale, Nick Baldwin and Chris Heywood have shown their enduring class, while young Tom Clarke continues to impress and is expected to blossom at this level.

Director of rugby Martin Poste has also added Aaron Collins to his coaching staff and brought in Rory Williams, who has moved to the area from Newark.

Williams will add height and experience to the second row and two more high-class recruits are being targeted.

Off the pitch, chairman Ken Jones is working with the club’s landlords on an upgrade to, and expansion of, facilities at the clubhouse.

Club members have dug deep to see that their club are good hosts and good guests at this level. Local businesses are also getting behind the boys in black.

The pitch has a new drainage system thanks to a flood-related grant and the club hopes to enclose the playing area eventually.

Park finished pre-season preparations last weekend with a 31-5 win against Sefton and 31-12 loss to Rochdale.

With several new additions to the Park squad on show and several of last year’s colts making their senior debuts, it was all very encouraging.

While all a bit rusty after 18 months out from a competitive game, the coaching staff were pleased with the outcome.

Head coach Matt Farr said: “The new additions over the summer along with some exceptional players coming through from our colts team has given the squad a real lift. We are confident we will have a good season.”

Park are relishing the opportunity to test themselves against a Lymm side two leagues above them.

Captain Shaun Underdown said: “We haven’t played Lymm for a few years due to differences in our League position, so we are really looking forward to it. Our first game since the lockdown versus Lymm is a great start to our season.”

President Brian Concannon is expecting a bumper crowd on Friday night to roar the players on.

“We have heavily invested in the club and grounds over the last two years and now have a clubhouse and pitches to be proud of,” said Concannon.

“It will be great to see the crowd enjoy our new facilities and to welcome back competitive rugby and really get behind the boys.

“It is also the perfect opportunity to catch up with old friends after the terrible time we have all had over the last 18 months.”