NORTHWICH finished further adrift of a promotion play-off place than previously last season but few would argue that they regressed.

In fact, their points total would have been higher had they beaten De La Salle, North One West’s weakest team, in a home game that didn’t take place.

Blacks finished fourth, and prevailed too in the Cheshire RFU Vase final.

READ > How Northwich won the Cheshire RFU Vase for a fourth time

Most observers agreed that the league was more competitive than ever in the 2018-2019 campaign, and they are likely to be repeating themselves next term with Vale of Lune – runaway champions two years ago – and Wilmslow both dropping down from the North Premier.

However some games stand out already as a must-see for Northwich supporters.

Here are our top five picks from yesterday’s fixture release:

Wilmslow v Northwich

Saturday, September 21

So compelling had meetings between these two teams been in previous seasons, it was a shame they didn’t go head-to-head again last term.

Wilmslow, after pinching second spot from Northwich in controversial circumstances in the 2017-2018 campaign before winning a promotion play-off, are back in North One West.

It remains to be seen how bruising a term at a higher level has been but the numbers alone – three wins from 26 games more than 1,000 points conceded – are enough to induce a wince.

Wilmslow hadn’t been a happy hunting ground for Blacks before a brilliant 36-29 victory there in March 2017, a double-header that secured with it a place in the Cheshire RFU Vase final.

READ > Northwich dig deep to reach Cheshire RFU Vase final

Northwich v Firwood Waterloo

Saturday, October 19

Martin Poste has an unblemished record against the Merseyside outfit since their demotion from the National League, recording four successive victories.

A 23-20 triumph in last season’s corresponding fixture at Moss Farm was thrilling, settled only by Richard Dale’s try in the last minute.

However Blacks emphasised a growing gap between the teams when they cruised to a 27-20 win in the return to silence a huge crowd at Blundellsands.

It nudged their opponents closer to a relegation trapdoor that they only avoided falling through by beating Manchester on the season’s final afternoon.

Scott Davidson’s transfer to Northwich from Waterloo the previous month added further spice to a burgeoning rivalry.

READ > Waterloo 20-27 Northwich: Barber-inspired Blacks win again

Northwich v Keswick

Saturday, February 29

After Penrith last time around, another new foe will visit Northwich.

Keswick have been promoted from Cumbria Division One, a newly-created section at step seven consisting of only eight teams while the Rugby Football Union conducted a review of leagues in the north of England, with an impressive record of 12 wins from 14 games.

However they will be an unknown quantity on pretty much every measure for rivals in North One West.

Their relative strength is certain to be clear though by the time they travel to Moss Farm in February.

Penrith finished in 10th position last term but lost 11 of their league 13 games on the road.

READ > Northwich's fixture list in full for 2019-2020 season

Stockport v Northwich

Saturday, March 7

When Northwich return to the scene of one of their most painful defeats with Martin Poste in charge, they will be motivated to give a better account of themselves.

A 50-26 reverse last October was the low point of the 2018-2019 season, extending a sequence without a victory to five matches.

Four of those were losses.

It was a delicate moment that preceded a stunning home success against table-toppers Carlisle seven days later.

They then won the next six games.

Stockport went on to rank a disappointing sixth in North One West under former Sale Sharks star Dean Schofield and will be determined to improve.

READ > Stockport 50-26 Northwich: Blacks battered by Port storm

Northwich v Birkenhead Park

Saturday, April 18

Teams that finished above these two, Carlisle and Blackburn, were both promoted to the North Premier.

And had De La Salle, already-relegated, been forced to fulfil an outstanding fixture against Northwich and lost – which is likely – Blacks would have finished level on points with Park.

Any irritation about that statistic melted away after they edged out Birkenhead in the Cheshire RFU Vase final at New Brighton.

It would be folly to list only these clubs as contenders for the title given who has dropped down from the level above, but the fact this is the last game on the calendar for next season is certainly intriguing.

Just how much might be riding on its outcome?

READ > Northwich and Winnington Park now know rivals for next season