Rugby Union: Points can make promotion prize a reality, says Newcastle skipper Jones
NEWCASTLE skipper Dan Jones has urged his side to scrap for every bonus point in a promotion chase expected to go right down to the wire.
Willenhall are eight points clear at the top of Midlands Three West (North), but the next three teams are separated by just two points heading into the final month-and-a-half of the season.
To make things more interesting, second-placed Castle will play their rivals in third, fourth and fifth in three of their four remaining matches.
The nail-biting will start in earnest on Saturday.
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Jones and Co take on fifth-placed Bloxwich at home, while third-placed Stourbridge Lions are busy hosting fourth-placed Handsworth.
The captain reckons every point will prove valuable before a potentially vital final day at Stourbridge on April 20.
He said: "We've been close to winning promotion in the past two seasons and hopefully we can finish the job this time around by holding on to second place.
"The division has split up a little bit now, but it's very tight in the fight for the second promotion spot.
"We've got to keep training hard and put in big performances.
"We have done well over the past couple of weeks, winning against Willenhall and then a derby at Eccleshall.
"But we can't afford to switch off if we've got a lead, we've got to keep going for the full 80 minutes. Every point is important."
Bloxwich beat Newcastle 32-6 when the two teams met in November, but have lost four of their last six outings to slip out of immediate promotion contention.
Castle number eight Chris Miller and second row Dan Lloyd return to the fold, while half-back Dominic Atherton will keep his place after impressing on his senior debut last weekend.
Jones added: "Bloxwich are a big bunch of lads with a strong pack and we met them on a small, muddy pitch. Their big number eight was able to control things.
"This time on our big, wide pitch it should be different. We'll have to get the ball moving quickly, but we should come into our own."
ECCLESHALL pushed Castle hard, especially in the final 20 minutes, before succumbing to a 30-23 defeat last weekend which keeps them 10th in the table.
This time they make the trip to ninth-placed Edwardians hoping for a repeat of their 28-14 success in the reverse fixture before Christmas.
LONGTON can edge towards the top half of National League Three Midlands with a win at sixth-placed Hinckley.
Ugandan sensation Alfie Kerakaho was the hero on his first outing last week as he pulled off a 50-metre sprint to the line in a 44-26 win over Broadstreet.
He is one of a clutch of youngsters hoping to gain revenge for a 23-21 defeat at home to Hinckley earlier this season.
"The introduction of new signings Alfie, Joe Newton-Taylor, Jack Corr and Rob Hollingsworth has brought a freshness to the squad," said club stalwart Mick Wheat."
SANDBACH are on their travels too, with a daunting trip to second-placed Ampthill.
Team manager Stuart Battersby said: "We had a month on the road before our home win over Syston last weekend, following on from an excellent result at South Leicester.
"Now we have our longest trip of the season to Bedfordshire. It will be a tough encounter."