Ashbrooke promotion bid comes to crunch

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SUNDERLAND go into Saturday’s Durham and Northumberland Division Two clash at leaders Ryton knowing the match could make or break their season.

Despite two bonus point wins on the bounce, Sunderland will still be reliant on favours from other clubs in order to win the league.

But automatic promotion is still within their own hands, if they can beat Ryton on Saturday.

Ryton are the league’s form team, having won nine games in a row since their 27-20 defeat at Ashbrooke in November.

They are three points clear of Whitley Bay Rockcliff at the top of the league, while Sunderland are a further 10 points behind in third, although the Wearsiders do have a game in hand.

A Sunderland success will pile the pressure on Ryton.

With so much riding on the match, coach Fraser Kennedy is delighted to be able to name just about a full strength squad.

Only Sam Vaughan and Grant Edmundson are unavailable from last Saturday’s revenge win over Ashington.

Michael Heffernan steps in for Vaughan at full-back and Peter Harrison comes back into the hooking berth in place of Edmundson.

Elsewhere, Alan Ross replaces Ryan Buckley at tight head prop and Dom Arkley comes in on the wing in place of Craig O’Donovan.

In the back row, coach Kennedy had a massive headache selecting an open side flanker, with Andy Sumner narrowly getting the nod over Bryan Finlay.

Sunderland I (away to Ryton, meet 1pm) Martinez, Harrison, Ross, Carter, Belfield, Drummond, Sumner, Watt, Brace, Townend, Abraham, Levison, Goforth, Arkley, Heffernan. Reps: Geehan, Finlay, O’Donovan

Sunderland II (home to Ryton, meet 1.30pm): Mensfield, Marshall, Buckley, Fish, Murphy, Hansen, Arrowsmith, Wordsworth, Reay, Dobson, Garvie, Cowans, Henderson, Henry, Blackburn, Turner, Bevand

H In Division One, table-topping Horden – with an 11-point lead – should be able to move closer to promotion by beating second-bottom visitors Ponteland, while Durham City, in third, entertain bottom club Bishop Auckland at Hollow Drift.

H Seaham, down to fourth after last week’s loss to Newton Aycliffe are away to second-placed Winlaton Vulcans in Division Three, while sixth-top Houghton meet visitors Seghill and second-bottom Washington face the long trip south to Yarm, who are one place and six points better off.