There’s an old saying in poker that if you haven’t spotted the weak link within 30 minutes of arriving at the table then you are it.
Wharfedale’s director of rugby Mike Harrison says the stakes are getting so high in National One now that 11 games into the season, there are no weak teams to play against; no free passes.
After just two wins all season, and one victory in the last nine, Wharfedale may have to look closer to home for the weak link.
For they are second bottom and in danger of ending a near 15-year association at third-tier level by leaving the division through the wrong exit door.
Fortunately, Harrison and head coach Tommy McGee have yet to play all their cards.
The cold hard facts of the table may not lie, but dig a little deeper and they can plead a case for being very unfortunate in a number of close games. Five of their last eight defeats have been by fewer than four points, and two of those, including last Saturday’s despairing loss at home to Sedgley Park, have been by a single point.
Plus a large number of players are expected to return from the treatment table, hence the optimism around Threshfields as they head to Blaydon today.
“We’ll find a way out of it but it has been very frustrating,” says Harrison. “We haven’t kicked our goals in the last three games so that doesn’t help.
“In all honesty the performances on the pitch haven’t been that bad.
“I don’t think Tommy and the coaches can do a lot more. We just need a win to turn it.
“In my 15 years of coaching and being a director of rugby I’ve never known the division be so tight.
“The standard has risen each year and that is the case again.
“There’s not the easy teams there used to be down at the bottom of the league.
“Plus we’re in a recession and northern teams have been hit harder by that. But I don’t want to use that as an excuse.”
To emphasise the growing strength of the division, Wharfedale are level on points with third-bottom Birmingham and Solihull who were a Championship outfit not so long ago, while the two teams setting the pace – Ealing Trailfinders and Fylde – were only promoted last season.
“If we can put our best team out I still believe we’re a match for most in this division,” adds Harrison.
“The alarm bells are ringing though, we know that if we don’t start winning games soon it will only get harder after Christmas.
“But I’m fairly confident, as is everyone at the club, that we can get out of the bottom three.”
Dan Hart has recovered from a slight knock to feature in a largely unchanged team.