Featherstone Rovers aim to hit the ground running in their opening Kingstone Press Championship game against Hunslet Hawks next Monday evening.
Coach Andy Hay knows a winning start will be vital in Featherstone’s bid for a top four spot in rugby league’s new structure which involves the 12 Super League clubs and 12 Championship clubs splitting into the Super 8s after 23 rounds.
He expects a hard test against promoted Hunslet in Monday’s opener which will be played at Wakefield’s Belle Vue ground (7.30pm kick-off) because of pitch maintenance work at Featherstone’s Big Fellas Stadium.
The Hawks line-up is expected to include Andy Kain and George Flanagan – two close-season signings from Featherstone – plus a handful of players from partner club Leeds Rhinos.
“We can’t afford to get off to a slow start,” said Hay.
“We have a tough opening spell because after Hunslet, we’ve got Doncaster away and then we play Bradford, Halifax and Leigh. When you start going through the list, all the games are tough so it is vital that we start well.
“It’s not ideal playing at Wakefield but it’s a big field which will suit us. I’d prefer to play there than switch the game to Hunslet.
“I just hope the Rovers fans turn out in force on Monday. It’s a home game and that makes a massive difference to us even though it is being played at Wakefield.
“As we saw last weekend in Super League, it’s going to be important to get the first win under your belt. Someone is going to slip up this weekend and we’ve got to try to make sure it’s not us and we’ve addressed that with the players already.
“Hunslet will be a bit of an unknown because of their link with Leeds Rhinos. We expect probably four or five players to be from Leeds.
“Hunslet have put together a good side and I think it will be a good test for us. We will have to be 100 per cent on our game.”
Hay has virtually a full-strength squad to chose from with only James Mendeika (knee surgery) and George Marchant (ankle) sidelined.
“We are looking quite healthy,” he added.
“I think we’ve got almost all the players fit at the end of the pre-season which is good for us.
“It’s going to be a selection headache for me but it’s a long haul and there’s two games at Easter and we need a big squad to compete. We are going to pick up injuries at some point and we’ve got to keep everyone on board.”