'Long won't catch us on hop again'
HULL Ionians coach Gary Pearce believes his side need to strangle the threat of Sean Long to start the year with a win.
Ionians begin 2013 with a home game against Preston Grasshoppers, their old rivals and fellow challengers for a top-two finish.
The 'Hoppers' started the season with promotion aims and boast the division's marquee name in ex-Hull FC star Long.
In his first season at Preston last year, Long's performance proved decisive in inflicting defeat on Ionians, and Pearce has warned his men of a repeat result.
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"Preston are one of the most dangerous sides we play and that's because they have a lot of quality in their back division," said Pearce.
"They have the lad Karl Fitzpatrick, who played full-back at Salford City Reds, then, of course, they have Sean Long.
"Sean is an exceptionally good player and you can't disguise his quality or ability. He never panics, he makes players around him play better and he spots gaps lesser players would never see.
"Last year he did nothing in the first half, then in the second half he came up with three plays that changed the game. We can't let that happen again and we need to strangle them."
Ionians have a good record against the Hoppers at their own ground and have already beaten Preston in the reverse fixture earlier this season.
Hoppers will be smarting after losing their last three matches, results which have seen them fall behind in the race for second place. Ionians, on the other hand, go into the match buoyed by their year-ending derby win against Hull.
"We enjoyed a great end to the year and hopefully we can start it in the same fashion," added Pearce.
"Having not played for a few weeks because of the Christmas break, it will be a big test for us, but it is the same for them too."
Joey Martin is keen to return at centre after missing all of December, while James Ferguson is doubtful after his injury at Hull, which gives Chris Reakes the chance to shine at off-half, the position he played at for England Students.
In the pack, Rob Kench is the only doubt, with Joe Sanders moving into the second row. Danny Hague, Mark Wigham, Kerry Wood and Will Nutbeen are competing for the starting line up in the back row.
All four of Hull Ionians teams are in action this weekend with the Hawks away to Harrogate Georgians, the Buccaneers at Bridlington Mariners while the Ramblers host Goole's second team.
Ionians v Preston Grasshoppers: Mike Bateman; Jon Steel; Joey Martin Richard Fletcher; Sam Wilson; Chris Reakes; James Ferguson; Adam Thomas; Isaac Green; Dave Laverick; Albert Thundercliffe; Tom Rice; Ally Forth; Stephen Johnson; Joe Makin(c); Joe Sanders; Scott Jackson; Kerry Wood; Mark Wigham; Danny Hague; Will Nutbeen; Ben Johnson; Will Heylings.
Hawks v Harrogate (Away) from: R Coates; S Quigley; B Rawson; P Dinsdale; Ziggy; E Hodges; G Stephenson; M Woodall; C Allenby; B Pearson; A Rice; R Deurden; D Redford; J Ashton; J Thundercliffe; A Torkington; B Johnson; Ran Whitehouse; M Cooling; S Jackson; Wacker; Macca.