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NEMLA – Premiership 1 Season Preview

English Lacrosse would like to welcome Tom Roche to the team, as the men’s northern writer for the upcoming season. Tom is a member of Mellor Lacrosse Club and has also represented England at U19 and at Senior levels. He finished his degree in publishing at Loughborough University last summer and is currently working for General Electric.

NEMLA – Premiership 1 Season Preview

Once again the season is only 5 days away, and with the rejuvenation of the English Lacrosse site comes a new approach to the coverage of lacrosse in the UK. Having already proved a massive success during the men’s and women’s senior European championships the new site contains a “Lacrosse TV” section for you to catch highlights of the top end of the English and international game, but for when video evidence isn’t enough, there’s going to be a comprehensive coverage in the form of weekly articles on our “Lacrosse Talk” section.

With that said, the domestic coverage is going to begin this year with a rundown of our top 5 seeds in the northern premiership, the country’s flag ship division for men’s lacrosse.

1. Stockport Lacrosse Club

Of course our number 1 seed has to remain the same, until someone can upset Stockport they look set to continue running the Northern Premiership as they have for the last 3 years, taking home consecutive titles. The boys in blue have a powerful combination of experience playing together and a sizeable chunk of the England senior team which has combined to prove Stockport all but unbeatable since the arrivals of Ben McAllistair and Andrew Baxter.

The 2012 Stockport team shouldn’t differ too much from previous years, as the old coaches cliché goes: “don’t change a winning team”. And all this team has done is win, with three unbeaten years in premiership play, Stockport seem to be more athletic, experienced and determined to win than everyone they come up against. Even a strong Cheadle side was rolled over 3-15 by them in last year’s flags final. It is difficult not to rave about every player in Stockport’s chosen 13, but below is a brief break down of the pieces that have added up to Stockport’s top seeding in the 2012/2013 season.

The Cale Green side are virtually impenetrable at the back: the solid defensive end starts with their captain Tom Williamson, also skipper for the national squad over the last three major international tournaments, Tom has been the lynch pin in at the back for the last six years; add to that England standout long stick midfielder Sam Patterson; Andrew Baxter who has been a rock in the England defence for 4 years now; and Ben McAllister who has proved his value repeatedly for over a decade. When you break down these four exceptional defensive players and add in Ryan Leonard, probably the best long stick player under the age of 19 in the country, it becomes clear that scoring more than ten goals against Stockport is a pretty mammoth task.

Moving further up field you will find even more proven premiership talent. Tom Gosnay, our most successful midfielder in modern international competition is joined by the likes of Steve Howe, Joe Singleton, Tom Patterson, Jim Morris and the return of Chris Bland to make up an incredibly potent attacking six, and a midfield that will consider itself unrivalled. Finding match ups to cover all of these players won’t be easy for any team, if you’re going to beat them then you will require a lot of very good defensive middy’s.

2. Cheadle Lacrosse Club

As difficult as it seems to see anyone overcoming the Stockport boys, if there is one team that can do it then it’s this new look Cheadle side. Where Stockport excels in defence, Cheadle control an exceptionally strong attacking unit, one that could well be enough to crack the Stockport wall. Top goal scorer from the European championships Ady Bennett will be operating at the sharp end for the green and gold, and thanks to a key cross-county transfer it looks like he will be part of a dangerous triple threat. Joining Ady and the already greatly experienced Darren Baythorpe will be Glen Humphries of Rochdale fame. Glen has had two particularly successful seasons recently, and will provide a strong run and gun dimension to Cheadle’s more typically pass and move style of attack.

The Cheadle guys also return the under 19s joint top goal scorer Daniel Condron, and have strength in numbers should they be willing to dip into a previously successful under 19s team. Former NCAA competitor Paul Flowers and ex-Wacs player Steve Shannahan round out the big threats for Cheadle, both of whom can dodge, finish and create chances in the attacking end.

Cheadle have come up a little short in recent seasons, but they have the motivation and team spirit to make 2012/13 their year. A club blessed with one of the most impressive histories in the game, there will be no shortage of motivation in the Cheadle camp, with rumours circulating that they are training more often than anyone else in the Premiership this season, a powerful asset in an amateur league like ours.

It’s important to mention that although they may be overshadowed by their attack, the Cheadle defence is still one of the strongest in the league, drawing on the experience of Ryan Bevington to lead England co-captain Nick Anderton, Mark Jones, and Daniel Smith out each weekend. All of the Cheadle defence can compete with dodging or scoring threats from any other club, and will only benefit from lining up against their attack twice a week at practice.

3. Heaton Mersey Lacrosse Club

Mersey seem a shoe in for 3rd in the league this year, a cut above the rest but not quite up to toppling either Stockport or Cheadle regularly. The Mersey guys are strong, although they lost Lewis Jacobs last season, and Tom bailey from long stick this season, they do return Jak Wawrzyniak from Division 1 team stony brook and it seems like they will also be joined by Stony Brook team mate and highly praised member of Team England Nick Watson who both promise to boost the team significantly. Rob Williams will be a rock for them in goal, Proving his class this year at the BNC’s for Lancashire Rob could turn the tables in favour of Mersey if they run close with either of our articles top two.

Mersey have some interesting threats this season, as usual opposition goal keepers will be challenged by some strong outside shooters, however the addition of Nick Watson threatening behind and a large potential for transition goals generated by Jak Wawrzyniak Mersey should up their goals per game from last season. Mersey have an extremely athletic midfield led by new captains Pete Hayes and Dan Heighway. With Tom Gallon in the middle and Chris Wainer and Wawrzyniak on the wings, Mersey will certainly have one of the most potent face-off units in the league, which will certainly add to the offensive threat from the boys in gold and black.

All of Mersey’s poles are capable of handling one on one dodge’s from most of the talented offensive players in the league, and with players like Gallon and ex-England defensive midfielder Andrew Ellison to rely on for short stick defence, Mersey will definitely be one of the hardest defensive units to crack this season. The question for Mersey will be how they can pull together and use all the individual components most effectively.

4. Timperley Lacrosse Club

The Altrincham team were difficult to seed, certainly capable of defeating Mersey, or come the right set of circumstances even Cheadle or Stockport, however they have been known to under perform in the past and are still a very young team, so by the time relegation battles begin Timperley will be a target for everyone below to upset. Now that I have sat firmly on the fence, let’s look at the reasons for placing this Timperley side in 4th

It could certainly be argued that since Tim Blower and Tom Kirkland left to Sheffield University they are a weaker side at the back, in a league that probably is strongest defensively more than any other position, however their exceptional junior set up will no doubt provide them with a series of options to come into the side, and with many of the team reaching peak ages this defensive fragility could easily be compensated for elsewhere.

Timperley sent three players to the European championships to represent England, including the two youngest members of the squad Oliver White and Jack Brook. Skipper Tim Holdsworth is beginning to reap the benefits of years of fantastic hard work in the Timperley juniors section, Jason and Mike Armstrong, Greg Sandy, Jack Brook and Ollie White all reaching an age where they can fully contribute to the 1st team. Timperley also welcome a new goalie in the shape of Mike Connor who was consistently impressive in the cage for the England U19’s in Finland this summer. Timperley have potential to achieve big things this season, providing they convert it into results.

5. ?

Bottling the tough call of how things will work out at the bottom, I have plumbed for “upsets” to be the number 5 pick in this year’s season preview. The bottom end of the pack seem to all be fairly even, with the possible exception of Wacs who started a good run of wins at the end of the 2011/2012 season. Internationals past, present, Australian to Welsh are spread across the bottom six not to mention a huge variation of youth, experience and multiple playing styles. Last year saw teams battle it out with the potential of finishing anywhere from fifth to bottom – and the same could easily occur again this year.

Mellor and Poynton both return from the Premier 2 [Edit] hoping to avoid the dreaded yo-yo promotion/relegation of years gone by. Both teams command some impressive talent, and have had imports over summer but whether youthful midfielders like Sam Russell and Adam Hall will be enough to keep the promotion teams in the top flight will remain to be seen.

Boardman, Wacs and Sheffield University were all in close combat with the strong Rochdale side and steady Steelers set up who will both be disappointed to have gone down. Still talented teams, these three will have to rely on their stand outs a little more than the teams at the top with the all-star line ups. Sheffield University in particular will need some big games from Tim Blower in net, who reportedly had a stand-out game against Cheadle in the upset of last season.

The final results at the bottom of the league will come down to consistency and determination. Playing well and losing by 1 goal will not bring the points that all these teams need to survive, but gritting your teeth, picking up that last ground ball and not going easy on your opposite number come the final quarter could be enough to extend your stay in the premiership this season.