It’s been a very busy period for me and the staff since the season ended, working hard to build a squad we feel will be competitive in 2018, and getting preparations right for pre-season. Whilst the players can relax and recharge ready for a tough pre-season, it’s been non-stop for us, and my Costa and Starbucks loyalty cards have never been so full – meeting players and agents over the past few months.
Like any new season, squads change – some have stayed, some new players have come in, and some have left. This is never an easy process, but it’s about assessing the situation, finding out who’s available that will improve the squad within the budget we are working to, and then making the right decisions. Inevitably that means some people will miss out and it’s nothing personal, but you have to be realistic and sometimes players have to look for other opportunities elsewhere. I would never want to stop anyone from playing rugby league, and I genuinely hope those that have left the club are able to continue playing at the highest level they can. We thank them for all they did for Hunslet RLFC.
Whilst it’s important to build some stability and retain players we already had, I’m really pleased with the quality of the new guys we have added to the squad. We’ve brought in players with Championship experience, and players that have been in good environments at good clubs previously, and they will bring some great qualities to the group both on and off the field, and I’m really looking forward to working with them. I feel the balance we have in the squad now is really good, and with 29 players signed, we have genuine, healthy competition for places in every position on the field, which will create a really professional and competitive environment.
We expect everyone to train really hard and give themselves the best chance of getting in the starting 17 come February 2018. Pre-season will not be easy, and no-one is guaranteed a shirt. We all know the benefits of a good pre-season, and this will allow us to hit the ground running right from the off. We have high hopes for next season, and there is a lot of excitement and anticipation within the group. We are really buzzing to get started and get stuck in, and we are under no illusions about the task ahead. It will be a tough one, and it will be a huge challenge and we must be up for it!
Other teams have also strengthened in their bid for promotion, and I feel next years’ League 1 will be the most competitive its ever been. Without a Toulouse or a Toronto, who were full time with huge playing budgets in comparison to other teams in the division, and were nailed on for one of the promotion places from the outset because of that , the competition will be much tougher this season. Clubs like ourselves will now feel they have a much better chance of promotion with 2 spots up for grabs and a more comparable opposition. I was really pleased to see the good news coming out of the RFL on the fixture format for 2018, reverting to playing every team home and away. The previous league fixture format never worked for me, and where you finished on the league ladder was very much dependant on where you travelled to for away games. It was the only division in Professional Rugby League who didn’t play every team home and away, which seemed ludicrous to me. This is a much fairer format and will be a true measure of the best teams in the competition, come the end of the season.
With Bradford and Oldham coming down from the Championship, they will be obvious favourites, but the teams that missed out in the playoffs this year – York, Whitehaven, Workington, Doncaster, Newcastle, Keighley – they will all be looking to go one step further next season. They are all strengthening their squads, so it makes League 1 look incredibly competitive with the quality of opposition we will face. That said, I think those teams will also look at us, and see a genuine threat from Hunslet next season. I’ve mentioned 9 top quality rugby league teams there – all vying for a top 6 play-off position, and when you throw some of the improving clubs like London Skolars, North Wales and Coventry into the mix, it makes for a mouth-watering and exciting challenge ahead.
We have just got the lads back in to start pre-season. Players rarely look forward to pre-season but it’s a really important phase in the season as I mentioned before. Me and my staff – Gary Barnett and Mark Cass – are looking to get the boys really fit over the coming winter months, which will enable us to play some attractive rugby league that wins games. The start of the new season is only around the corner now, so hopefully you’ve got your season ticket ordered and we can give you something on the field to be proud in 2018.