JASON HEWITT is confident his Hull Pirates team will be in the mix for NIHL North honours again this season – as long as they can avoid the kind of lapses that proved so costly last time around.
The East Yorkshire club had to settle for second-best in 2017-18, losing out to rivals Sheffield Steeldogs, who they had gone toe-to-toe with throughout the campaign.
But Hewitt maintains his team lost out on the EIHA’s most coveted piece of silverware because of costly and, to some, unexpected defeats against the likes of mid-table teams such as Blackburn and Solihull.
This time around, Hull have once again started brightly, sitting second in the overall standings with a 100 per cent record.
Player-coach Hewitt expects a three-horse race for the title, with Sheffield and Telford Tigers again in the mix. The South Yorkshire club currently top the table with a 100 per cent record of their own, while Telford sit in third just one point behind Hull.
“I believe it will be the same top three as it was last year,” said Hewitt, whose team travel to Solway Sharks in the league tonight before returning home to host Sheffield in the North Cup.
“So whoever wins those match-ups between Sheffield, Hull and Telford and doesn’t drop any silly points in places they shouldn’t, will win the title. That is what happened last year, we dropped points in Solihull and Blackburn and that is what cost us the league, not losing to Sheffield.
“That is the one thing I have drilled into our players this time around. No matter who it is we’re facing, we just play our usual game game – that way, when we come up against the teams around us at the top we’ll be ready.”
Hull and Sheffield have already faced each other three times this season – all in cup competition – with Ben Morgan’s team winning two of the encounters, including when they overturned a first-game deficit to progress at Hull’s expense in the Autumn Cup.
But Hewitt is confident his team will prove a long-term match for their closest rivals.
“All the games we’ve played against each other so far have been pretty tight,” added Hewitt. “I’m particularly happy with the performances we’ve put in against Sheffield and I expect us to do so again on Sunday.”
Ahead of tomorrow night’s encounter, the Steeldogs host Telford in another North Cup game.
In the Elite League, Sheffield Steelers will look to make it four wins on the troty when they host Manchester Storm tomorrow (4pm).
Winger Eric Neiley will be in the line-up to start his second spell in South Yorkshire after beginning the season at struggling Milton Keynes Lightning.
No matter who it is we’re facing, we just play our usual game game – that way, when we come up against the teams around us at the top we’ll be ready.Hull Pirates’ player-coach, Jason Hewitt
His return is something that has been warmly welcomed by Steelers’ captain, Jonathan phillips.
“It is huge for us,” said Phillips. “We all loved having him on the team last year and were disappointed that he didn’t return in the summer. Now he is back and there was a lot of happy players in the room when he arrived, he has fitted in just like he hasn’t been away
“I think Eric will fit in perfectly here to the way we are playing. He was and remains a great team-mate, there won’t be any bedding in period needed for him.”