POWERFUL Chester-le-Street will be favourites to retain their National Six Stage Road Relay at Sutton Coldfield today.

The Cestrians were comfortable winners of the North of England Championship at Sunderland two weeks ago and welcome back one of their star runners - Great Britain international Morag McDonnell - for the bigger test at Sutton Park.

McDonnell, who was forced to miss the race at Silksworth because of a prior commitment, ran the joint second fastest time of the day when Chester-le-Street beat Winchester by 30 seconds to take the national title last year.

Team manager Lindsay Dunn said: "This is the race we have been preparing for all winter. We have a very good team - probably the best we have ever turned out.

"It is a tremendous competition at Sutton Park with a really good atmosphere and we are looking forward to it."

Chester-le-Street field four of last year's winning team - Kathryn Waugh, Emma Waterhouse, Morag McDonnell and Alyson Dixon - and they are joined by North-East and Scottish cross country champion Freya Murray and the up-and-coming Tracy Laws.

Northern 12-Stage champions Morpeth Harriers could also be among the medals after finishing a disappointing 11th with a depleted team last year.

The Northumbrians, who have won the Northern crown seven times in the last eight years, have not been medal winners in the National since 2002, when they were third.

Morpeth, however, have a near full-strength team at their disposal this time and could have one of the fastest short-stage runners in former AAA 1500m champion Nick McCormick.