SUNDERLAND head into a new season full of confidence – with a derby-day starter in Durham and Northumberland Division One on Saturday.
After a productive pre-season that saw the Ashbrooke men pick up two wins out of three, Sunderland welcome local rivals Horden to Hill View (3pm kick-off).
Despite not yet being at full strength and missing a number of players in the backline, the addition of some new and returning players to the squad has given Sunderland a lift heading into the new campaign.
Having retained all last season’s pack, the return of Ross Finch from Darlington Mowden Park will add extra mobility to the back row while also offering an extra option in the lineout.
Former Sunderland University and Wallsend prop forward Dave Robson has also signed on for the Wearsiders, and has been quick to show, in pre-season, how big a threat he will be with ball in hand.
Sunderland’s backline has also been bolstered with the return of Matt Goforth, a prolific try scorer in previous stints with the club.
All three new players will line up against Horden, with Goforth’s presence a huge boost given the number of backs who are unavailable at the moment.
Dan Abraham and Tom Townend picked up injuries in pre-season and will be missing for a couple of weeks, while Jamie Maclennan is still recovering from knee surgery and is likely to miss most of the season.
Students Greg Littlewood and Matt Francis are not yet back from holidays, so they will also miss the first couple of weeks of the league season, along with Sam Vaughan who is returning to the area.
Talented youngster Guy Kingsley Smith will also come into contention for a first-team spot, despite not being available this week.
This weekend, Sunderland hand first-team debuts for Adam Reay at scrum half and Danny Hinder on the wing.
Both youngsters will be looking to impress and grab the opportunity to stake their claim on a first-team jersey for the rest of the season.
Sunderland are without a second team fixture on Saturday, so a large squad is selected for the club’s first ever trip to Border Park in the third team’s first outing in the Northumberland League.
Sunderland I (home to Horden, meet 1.30pm, KO 3pm): Robson, Harrison, Arrowsmith, Carter, Wordsworth, Finch, Black, Watt, Reay, Dobson, Hinder, Belfield, Goforth, Walton, Atkinson. Reps: Ross, Drummond, Watson
Sunderland III (away to Border Park, meet 12.0): Buckley, D Marshall, Geehan, Wright, Edmundson, Belfield, Smith, Elstob, Penni, Jackson, S Marshall, Harrison, Mackie, Brace, Richardson, Heffernan, Vaughan, Baines, Ditchburnn Simpson, Garrimore, Tossi, Groark
H Durham City have a tough opening match in North One East, away to Middlesbrough.
H Seaham host Houghton in an always entertaining derby showdown in Durham and Northumberland Division Three which is sure to be hotly contested.