Derby dates on the agenda

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LOCAL derbies will top the agenda when the National Conference transition season kicks off in August.

Conference bosses have plotted a 12-week league programme to bridge the gap between the final winter season and the switch to summer rugby in 2012.

The three NCL divisions have been split into four pools, with Calderdale’s teams - Premier Division high flyers Siddal and Division Two pair Ovenden and Elland - all lumped together, along with Saddleworth, Oulton and Rochdale Mayfield.

All the clubs will also play ‘cross conference’ fixtures, with the season culminating in a play off series and a Grand Final, which will be played on November 19.

“It’s going to be tough, that’s for sure,” said Ovenden coach Steve Taylor.

“I don’t think it takes a rocket scientist to work out which teams are going to be finishing at the top.”

Siddal manager Steve Dyson, whose club have contested the last three Premier Division Grand Finals, played down suggestions the Chevinedge club would have it all their own way.

“Ovenden and Elland are going to be fired up, so there are not going to be any easy games,” said Dyson.

Fixtures

August 13: Elland v Ovenden, Siddal v Saddleworth

August 20: Ovenden v Siddal, Rochdale Mayfield v Elland

September 3: Ovenden v Rochdale Mayfield, Elland v Saddleworth, Siddal v Stanningley

September 10: Saddleworth v Ovenden, Siddal v Rochdale, Elland v Oulton

September 17: Ovenden v Oulton, Elland v East Leeds, Siddal v Hunslet Warriors

September 24: Ovenden v East Leeds, Elland v Siddal

October 1: Ovenden v Elland, Rochdale Mayfield v Siddal

October 8: Siddal v Ovenden, Saddleworth v Elland

October 15: Ovenden v East Leeds, Siddal v Elland

October 22: Oulton v Ovenden, East Leeds v Elland, Hunslet Warriors v Siddal

October 29: Ovenden v Saddleworth, Elland v Rochdale Mayfield, Stanningley v Siddal

November 5: Saddleworth v Siddal, Oulton v Elland, Rochdale Mayfield v Ovenden

Luke Burgess is set to become the latest Englishman to make his NRL debut, just a week after being released by Leeds.

The 24-year-old prop flew out to Australia at the weekend after signing a two-and-a-half-year contract with South Sydney and trained with his new team-mates for the first time yesterday.

He was named on the bench for Sunday’s match against Cronulla as coach John Lang wrestles with a front-row injury crisis.

Among the absentees is Luke’s younger brother Sam, who is sidelined with a long term with an ankle injury.

Luke’s last match was in the Rhinos’ home win against Catalan Dragons on May 13.

Kangaroos centre Justin Hodges has been pronounced fit for the State of Origin decider on July 6.

The Queenslander missed the first two matches with a hamstring injury but is poised to return to the back line at the expense of Dane Nielsen.

Coach Mal Malinga has remained loyal to the rest of the squad though, with the only change being an enforced one with Jacob Lillyman replacing the suspended David Taylor.

New South Wales levelled the interstate series with a gripping 18-8 win over the champions earlier in the month after the Maroons had won the opening game 16-12.

Queensland will be looking to give captain Darren Lockyer a fitting send-off with a sixth straight series victory at the Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane.

“We understand that it will be a fairly emotional week for Darren,” said Malinga. “It comes down to how we prepare, but through experience you understand how to handle it.”