Hull Pirates and Sheffield Steeldogs all to play for as NIHL North title race reaches grand finale

IT’s been a long 12 months for Hull Pirates.

Sheffield Steeldogs' player-coach, Ben Morgan. Picture: Pete Best.

The pain may have eventually gone from last season’s final weekend defeat at the hands of Sheffield Steeldogs – whose triumph saw them clinch the NIHL North One league title instead of their Yorkshire rivals – but the memories still linger.

And while Pirates player-coach Jason Hewitt insists talk of what happened in March last year has been kept to a minimum 12 months on, there is no denying that such a crushing disappointment will only fuel his team’s desire to ensure lightning doesn’t strike twice in the coming 48 hours.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

If both teams can negotiate their respective tricky Saturday night encounters, then a repeat of last year’s final night showdown is set to take centre stage.

The one major difference this time around is that it is not just Hull and Sheffield involved in the title race, with Telford Tigers also in the mix. As things stand this morning, all three teams sit on 62 points with two games remaining. we’ve already been do or die basically for the last 10-12 games anyway and we;ve been playing really well and rising to the occasion and I like our chances this weekend, I like the way we’re going right now and we’re definitely a different animal to last year.

Hull host Telford tonight before heading to Sheffield 24 hours later, Ben Morgan’s team having made the long road trip back to South Yorkshire having taken on Solway Sharks this evening.

For both Morgan and Hewitt the equation is a simple one – win both games and they will be crowned champions and while Hull were the team to lose out in such heartbreaking fashion last time, there is no shortage of motivation in either camp.

“I don’t think you could have written it any better for all three of us to be on the same points and having played the same games going into the final weekend and having to play each other,” said former GB international Hewitt.

Hull Pirates' player-coach, Jason Hewitt. Picture courtesy of Hull Pirates IHC.

“Most of our current roster were involved last year. You don’t get a second chance on the night, so we’ve been waiting 12 months to get another shot at it.

“I think it adds a bit of fuel, certainly for me because I didn’t like how it turned out last year – it took me a while to get over it. But I’ve also been on the other side of it when I’ve won the league with a team on the last day and there is no better feeling.

“We’ve already been playing do or die basically for the last 10-12 games anyway and we’ve been playing really well and rising to the occasion.

“II like our chances this weekend, I like the way we’re going right now and we’re definitely a different animal to last year.”

As for Morgan, he has been trying to maintain a simple approach to what will undoubtedly be a tense weekend for all three teams – but it is a situation he will clearly relish.

“It’s something we’ve played all season for,” said defenceman Morgan. “When we won it on the final day last year, it was arguably one of the highlights of my career.

“For us, this weekend is just a simple case of needing two points on Saturday, then two points on Sunday. It doesn’t matter how we get it – shootout, overtime or in regulation – we know that will be good enough.”

All week, Morgan has been at pains to ensure his players only think about Saturday night’s encounter at fourth-placed Solway before they begin to think about the following night’s visit from Hull.

“It’s been a successful season so far,” added Morgan. “We’re two games away from retaining our league title, we’ve managed to win one competition and also get to the final of another one so, all in all, it’s already been a successful season.

“But we can’t start thinking about Hull until we’re on the way home from Solway. We don’t even look beyond Solway, it’s as simple as that. Once Solways is out of the way, preparations for the game against Hull can start straightaway on the bus.”