BRADFORD & BINGLEY may have lost four players from their strongest 15 of last season, but are optimistic of making an impact in North One East.

Gone are lock Brett Mitchell to Otley, while hooker or flanker Masui Akauola (New Zealand) and fly half Gerhard Nortier and centre Schalk Oosthuizen (South Africa) have returned to their homelands.

However, the Bees director of rugby Martin Whitcombe has been pulling some strings closer to home and a trio have returned to Wagon Lane in prop Corey Spencer (from Old Grovians), scrum half Dan Jeffries (Huddersfield) and James Morton (Otley).

In addition, the Bees have signed winger Chris Battye from Keighley and rugby league imports Hafiz Karim and Andy Walker, who are likely to slot in at winger or centre respectively.

Throw Will Rae, Harry Collis, Louis Fraser and Ali MacDonald into the mix, and Whitcombe said: “As a coaching panel, we are optimistic for the season ahead.”

The Bees, who start at Driffield, are also hoping that other players will sign before their home derby against Cleckheaton a week on Saturday, where they will be, in a sense, christening their refurbished changing rooms, which have been spruced up courtesy of Phil Medley, Steve Hellowell, Phil Lightbody and John Fletcher.

Cleckheaton are also on the road – at Penrith – and give starts to full back Alex Garden, centre Mike Swetman, winger Cain Crotty and scrum half Lewis Beasty.

Garden is a Huddersfield University student mate of lock Luke Pearson’s, Crotty and Beasty (brother of Matt) have come up through the junior ranks, and Swetman is player-coach.

Bradford Salem, who are at Hullensians in Yorkshire Division One, have joined the Latvian connection started by Wharfedale and North Ribblesdale by signing Settle pair, winger Martins Bokiss and flanker Gundars Grieber.

“They have come to us with North Ribblesdale’s blessing as there is a Latvian club in Bradford and one of the players has a girlfriend studying at Bradford University,” explained Salem’s Neil Klenk.

Old Grovians welcome back long-term injury absentees Ross Bannatyne and Ollie Pratt for their home Yorkshire Division Two derby against Yarnbury. 

Wibsey are the first team to host a tie in the Yorkshire RFU’s new Vase competition, facing BP Chemicals.

Cleckheaton (at Penrith): A Garden; M Hayward, Matt Piper, C Crotty; R Evans, L Beasty; N Jackson, B Thrower, A Piper, L Pearson, R Piercy, B Marsden, J Plunkett-White, T Austin. Replacements: M Wood, J Crowther, J Seddon.

Bradford Salem (at Hullensians): D Belcher; R Smith, C Malarkey, H Hall, M Bokiss; A Robinson, M Booth; T O’Sullivan, A Veitch, J Bradbury, B Whitaker, S Gardner, G Grieber, C Wood, C Manchester. Replacements: L Barker, M Darragh, J Callender.

Old Grovians (home to Yarnbury): A Griffin; P Burns, H Garforth, E Cosgrove, A Masterson; B Brown, T Gough; L Brook, J Sowden, A Dodd-Jones, M Dakin, O Pratt, J Deu, R Bannatyne, D Secker. Replacements: C Cockshott, E Roberts, N Barr.

Wibsey (home to BP Chemicals): B Wright; L Wilson, A Armitage, D Conroy, J Rogers; L Helliwell, K Carter; S Birkbeck, J Brown, A Rose, S Foulds, M Grimes, J Nall, J Birkbeck, C Farley. Replacements: To be announced.