Greater strength in depth will help Magpies push on

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Ahead of their season opener captain Leigh Sitch believes Harleston Magpies Men’s first team are now better prepared to cope with the demands of regular competitive hockey.

The 2015/16 season was one to forget for Magpies, who were relegated from the National League Conference East as the bottom-placed side.

For much of the campaign Harleston had only 11 or 12 players available for selection each week, while their opponents were able to boast squads of up to 18 options.

However, having added the likes of Jack Knight, Sam Patterson, Will Martin and Tom Sumner for their return to the East Men’s League Premier A Division, Sitch now expects a more competitive side to take to the field each week.

“We knew that last season was going to be tough because of numbers, if nothing else,” said the skipper.

“While we at times were down to the bare bones, others had plenty of players left in reserve.

“On top of that we probably had a lack of experience, but I think that has been addressed now.

“We have had a good pre-season, been good in the friendlies against higher-league opposition and everyone is feeling good — there is no hangover from last season.”

Magpies have been dealt a tough stuff to the new term in the form of a trip to St Albans (3pm) — a side that many are tipping to be battling for promotion come the closing stages.

But as far as Sitch is concerned, his charges should be looking to push the Hertfordshire outfit all the way.

“We know it is a very tough game and they will be up there this season,” he added.

“But playing them first might be a good thing. There is a chance they could be rusty.

“We just have to concentrate on ourselves because we should be there or thereabouts at the end of the season — we have enough quality for that.

“Winning the first game is always important, but we also know it is a long season.

“It is very difficult to go a whole season unbeaten so dropping points early on would not be a disaster.”

Steve Leate will continue in his role as the team’s manager, with Ben Wright staying on in a player-coach capacity.

While additions have been made, Matt Riches, Toby Price, Donnie Archer and Zum Akhtar have all departed from last year’s squad for a variety of reasons.

n The Mens II will begin at home against Blueharts II on Saturday (2pm), while the Mens III face Lowestoft Railway at home (3.15pm).

The fourths travel to Lowestoft Railway II (2.30pm)and the fifth team entertain Thetford (10.45pm).

The VI side are away at Dereham III (3pm).