NIHL North: Laidler D2 preview

After a summer of uncertainty and controversy, NIHL North swings back into action this weekend with a new format and two new teams. With four possible promotion places up for grabs, Laidler D2 promises to produce plenty of excitement over the coming months. C2C casts its eye over the teams to see what we can expect.

Barons won last year’s title by 12 points with a roster that wouldn’t look out of place in D1. No promotion/relegation last term leaves them facing another year at the lower level. Defensive rocks Ryan Selwood & Perry Doyle are back again, while new forward Thomas Soar adds yet more EPL experience. Favourites to retain their title and gain promotion to a level their squad warrants.

With Dan Söderberg Andersson & Shaun Kippin leaving the club the last thing Dragons needed was any more upheaval, so Jordan Bannon’s late switch to Blackburn Hawks doesn’t help their cause. However, ex-Telford Titans Mike Roden & Paul Davies are solid additions, and with a number of promising youngsters coming through Dragons will hope to be in the hunt for promotion.

After enduring a torrid time in D1 during 2012/13, Blaze found D2 more to their liking last season as they finished third and reaching the play-offs. Top forwards Josh Nicklin & Josh Gent have moved on, but Gareth O’Flaherty & Dale White are excellent signings. Blaze should be up there challenging, but whether the club would want, or can afford, promotion is another matter.

Lions won D2 in 2012/13 but chose to stay down and ended last season in a disappointing fourth place. Luke Thomas is back as captain once again to lead a young looking roster. Forward Dan Hazeldine should provide goals after an impressive return last term, while Lions hope import Ivo Dimitrijevs bounces back to form after disappointing with the Hawks last season. Questions remain over their desire for promotion, but should be in the mix.

Following a rocky start to life in NIHLN, Wild’s form improved during the second half of last season. Forwards Filip Supa, Shaun Dippnall & Bobby Caunce are a handful, while ex-Hawk Sam Dunford should be a hit in D2. Their targeted top three finish may appear ambitious, but with a vociferous crowd behind them Wild could challenge.

With no players announced and their first game a week away, you could be fooled into thinking Hull are set for a difficult season. The likelihood is they’ll have their usual mix of solid D2 performers and decent youngsters who’ll make things difficult for most of their opponents.

Senators looked on the rise a couple of seasons ago, but struggled for form in 2013/14. Forward Tom Humphries returns after a spell with Sheffield Spartans, while Josh Gent switches from Coventry. Coach Andy Ellis says his squad is stronger this term and it’s difficult to disagree. Sens could be the surprise package.

Despite suffering some heavy defeats in the past few seasons, Eagles won many friends around the league for their never-say-die attitude. After picking up a win and a draw last year, Coach Scott Barnett is keen to build on the foundations he’s laid and continue improving his team. Unlikely to trouble the top of the table, but may well collect more points this season.

Tigers’ entry into the league hasn’t met with universal approval, but with the resources they have at their disposal they could be a force to be reckoned with. Macauley Heywood & James Smith are excellent additions from their EPL team and it’s expected they’ll ice a competitive roster this season. Whether they can challenge Solihull remains to be seen, but could be in the promotion shake up.

Bradford return to NIHLN after a two year absence and face a race against time to organise their squad. With their first game just over a week away, Bulldogs have confirmed just two signings so far. Their junior set-up has an uncanny knack of producing decent players, so it’s possible they’ll assemble a competitive roster and improve as the season progresses.

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