Rochdale Hornets return to action on Sunday as they take on Salford Red Devils in their first friendly of 2017 at the Crown Oil Arena.
Preparations for their Kingstone Press Championship campaign have been underway since November as the new squad came together for the first time, and now it is time for their first hit-out as a group.
It will be their first outing since their dramatic 24-22 Promotion Final win against Toulouse Olympique in France, and head coach Alan Kilshaw is looking forward to seeing his new side tested by Super League opposition.
“We are more than ready for some combative football now,” commented Kilshaw.
“We have had a lot of changes so it’s important we put these new combinations under pressure in a game environment, and playing a Salford side which features a number of quality players is a great way to blow the cobwebs off.”
The Red Devils were Kilshaw’s first opponents as Hornets boss exactly a year ago as they were on the wrong end of a 44-16 score line as they prepared for what was a memorable League 1 campaign.
He feels that in all aspects the club have come a long way in those 12 months and feels that the Championship will test him as a coach as well as his players.
“I think the obvious measurement for improvement would be we are now in a higher league being champions, but if you look at the club as a whole I feel there have been massive improvements on and off the field.
“We have made great leaps in terms of professionalism which shows in very exciting squad we have been able to attract.
“We have a great bunch of staff who go above and beyond and we work very closely and share a good bond which is imperative for success.
“As a coach I’m always learning and developing and this will be my fifth year coaching first grade. Each and every week is a challenge but I would miss it if I didn’t have it.
“I have learnt a lot about the players in the squad and at other teams and I’m sure the Championship will be another division which will throw different lessons at us.”
The Hornets chief has been impressed with his men in their pre-season training so far, as they have worked hard on fitness and their combinations ready for the competitive season.
He puts that down in part to the facilities they are fortunate to have access to as well as the stability of the club off the field.
“With lots of uncertainty around some of our rivals we can safely say we have had little disruption in our preparation for the new season,” continued Kilshaw.
“Our new training base at Hopwood Hall coupled with the world class facilities at Warrington Wolves have meant all of our sessions have been a high quality with little or no effect from the weather, although our greatest challenge is always the traffic.
“Everyone is training at a very high level and each player knows how hard they need to work to firstly make the 17 and secondly to be successful.”
Rochdale will be without Jono Smith who is serving a suspension, while Dave Cookson and Michael Ratu are awaiting operations on shoulder and abdominal injuries respectively.
Rob Massam is unlikely to be risked following an ankle injury picked up in training, however local youngster Jordan Cella will be included in the squad on trial while former Rochdale Mayfield junior Luke Fowden will feature.
Tickets are still available from www.hornetsrugbyleague.com, by contacting the club on 01706 648 004 or by visiting the office before Sunday with prices at £13 for adults, £10 concession and £2 for juniors.