The ENL Division One title race promises to be one of the most exciting for years with a number of teams expected to challenge for the crown.
Reigning champions Whitley Warriors will be gunning to make it three in a row but new coach, Garry Dowd, has had a hectic summer assembling his squad. Ace marksman Adam Reynolds left for Solway, netminder James Flavell returned to Billingham while Karl Culley retired. Dowd signed former Hull Stingrays stopper Andrew Jaszczjk to replace Flavell and ex-Billingham defensive duo Phillip and Steve Prichard have moved to Hillheads. Former captain Bryan Dunn has been coaxed out of retirement and Rob Wilson returns after a spell with Newcastle Vipers.
After a two year absence a new look Billingham Stars take their place in the ENL. Their roster features a number of former Bombers along with players from last season’s Northern Stars team. Richie and Andy Thornton and Paul Windridge joined Flavell to return to the club, with Stars’ regulars Alex Lawson, James McCabe and Anthony Price adding depth to what looks an impressive squad.
Nottingham Lions and Coventry Blaze finished second and third last term and both have had a quiet summer. The Lions have lost top point scorers Tom Soar and Callum Bowley to EPL’s Telford Tigers and will be hoping to uncover some more hidden gems from their renowned junior set-up. Coventry coach Reg Wilcox has retained the bulk of his squad and will look to top scorer Rhys McWilliams to lead the way again.
Blackburn Hawks ended last season in fine form and player/coach Jared Owen looks to have assembled a squad capable of mounting a sustained challenge. The loss of top scorer Dave Meikle is a blow but Owen has added ex-Trafford Metros pair Brian Worrall and Jordan Bannon to boost forward numbers. Rugged defender Scott Glover has joined from Sheffield Spartans and with Rick Hughes and Aaron Davies in their ranks the Hawks should at least make the play-offs.
Sheffield Spartans finished a disappointing fifth last time around. Glover’s move to Blackburn along with the loss of forwards Chris Turner and Richie Oliver has left the Yorkshire outfit relying on youth. GB18’s forward Elliott Knell gained EPL experience with Sheffield Steeldogs last season and Spartans will hope he continues his development this term.
Making up the division are Trafford Metros, Telford Titans and newly-promoted Solihull Barons. The loss of Worrall and Bannon to Blackburn may prove costly to the Metros, while Telford will look to experienced defenceman Ashley Stanton and forward Karol Jets to keep the Titans out of trouble. Solihull’s star forward Dean Tonks has moved to New Zealand but the prolific Erik Bakalar, Rob Eley and Richard Slater have signed again to leave the Barons hoping they can prove to be the surprise package.
Division Two has a new addition to its ranks after Solway Sharks were voted into the league.
The Sharks have moved from the now defunct Northern League and are expected to prove unstoppable in their quest for promotion. Adam Reynolds’ surprise switch from Whitley was trumped by the shock signing of Nathan Salem. The GB20’s forward has recently featured for Newcastle Vipers and Edinburgh Capitals in the Elite League and, along with Reynolds, is expected to rack up huge numbers in ENL2.
Expected to challenge Solway are Flintshire Freeze and Sutton Sting. Flintshire’s Chris Jones grabbed over sixty points last season and with James Parsons in tandem with Jones, Freeze will be hoping to shock the Sharks. Sutton have appointed the experienced Jon Rowbotham to their coaching ranks and with the likes of former EPL stalwart John Goodman captaining the team, Sting will aim to push the Sharks to the wire.