BLACKBURN Hawks coach Dan MacKriel believes Whitley Warriors will push his side all the way as the battle for the Moralee Conference title hots up.

The Hawks are still in the hunt for a treble of trophies, with a double header against Billingham Stars likely to decide the destiny of the cup, while they remain in pole position to claim the league title and head to the play-offs in prime position.

But the Warriors are making MacKriel’s side work for a second successive league championship.

When the Hawks came from 3-1 down to beat Whitley 4-3 on January 10 they went nine points clear, although the Warriors had two games in hand.

That lead has now been cut to just one point, although it is now the Hawks who have a game in hand, and they know three wins from their final four league outings will secure the title, regardless of what the Warriors do.

They can take a step closer to that target this weekend as they face Billingham away in the cup tonight (5pm) before a home league clash with Telford Tigers tomorrow (5.45pm).

“They’re making us work hard for it, that’s the strength of their team,” MacKriel said of the Warriors.

“They’re a really good team and I don’t expect them to drop any more points between now and the end of the season.

“We will have to be at our very, very best in every game we’ve got left in the league.

“It’s going to be close. It’s not over at all. We’ll have to fight for everything and show how much we want to retain the league championship.”

While the Hawks have spent the previous two weekends in cup action against Widnes Wild, the Warriors have played two league games, winning both, to pile the pressure on Blackburn.

Asked if the cup had been a welcome distraction from the title race, MacKriel said: “I’m not so sure. We had the game against Solway postponed because they got stuck on the M6.

“We’d have liked to have played them because we were in decent form. That’s been rearranged now.

The cup lets us concentrate on that.

“We’re mindful that whatever game we play in whatever competition we want to go out there and perform at our best and do our best and come away with a win.”

Last season the Hawks cruised to the Moralee Conference, winning the league, which contained two less teams and eight less games than this season, by 14 points, but this time around they face a tense fight to defend their crown.

“It’s about playing smart hockey, playing sensible,” MacKriel said of the run-in.

“It’s starting to knuckle down at the business end of the season.

“It’s a time when it’s exciting but we can’t get ahead of ourselves here.

“I think Whitley will win all their remaining games, that’s no disrespect to who they’re playing I just think they’re a really well drilled outfit who are working hard for each other, which is good for the league.”

The Warriors are away at third-placed Solihull Barons tomorrow (6pm).