Doncaster Knights will be aiming to prove that last season’s record-breaking Championship campaign was not a one-off.
Knights had to battle hard against relegation for much of the 2014-15 campaign on their return to the second tier of English rugby, but proved the surprise packet of last season.
Director of rugby Clive Griffiths would love to go one better this season but admits it will be even tougher to finish in the top-four this time around.
“I think this will be the strongest league yet because of the amount of investment being pumped into clubs,” he said.
“I’ve been unsuccessful in trying to compete for players who have gone to the likes of Ealing and Jersey.
“We’ve been very prudent in our recruitment. We have some terrific benefactors putting money in but there is only so far they can go.
“When you consider we’ve got four trips to London with overnight accommodation and trips to places like Cornwall and Munster (in the B&I Cup), and all the other coach travel, you are probably talking in the region of £30,000 coming out of the budget before you start.”
Asked to pick his top-four sides, Griffiths said: “I’d have to say ourselves because if I didn’t say that people would think I was being negative.
“You’ve got to fancy the two big spenders London Irish and Yorkshire Carnegie and the fourth spot could be anyone from the rest.”
South Yorkshire rivals Rotherham Titans provide the opposition in the club’s first home match and Griffiths predicts they could be one of the teams challenging for a top-four spot.
“Justin (Burnell) will have them well organised,” he said.
“He’s an experienced coach who got London Welsh promoted to the Premiership before and he knows what it takes to do well.
“They had a poor season in 2015-16 after a good one the year before and they’ll be smarting. They’ve got a new team with a lot of enthusiasm and will be wanting to show what they can do.
”But, as I say, it could be anyone and I certainly think it’s going to be a league where anybody can beat everybody else on their day.”
Influential pair Will Hurrell and Ollie Stedman are among a number of players to have moved on over the summer, while Knights will also be without Michael Hills for their season opener at newly-relegated London Irish on Saturday after the skipper suffered a hamstring injury in the pre-season friendly defeat to Newcastle Falcons.
Griffiths said: “It’s obviously disappointing to lose Michael for the opening weeks of the season, as well as losing several of the team which did so well last season, but I’m more than happy with the squad.
“We’ll obviously got a tough start away to the relegated club who have kept a lot of their best players, but we’ll be going there looking to win.
“However, if we come back with anything from the game down there that will be great. We didn’t win our opening game last season.
“It’s points that matters at the end of the day in the Championship. We saw that with Yorkshire Carnegie last season. They still finished third despite losing a lot of games by picking up a lot of bonus points.
“We are absolutely going into the game as underdogs but we showed last season when beating Bristol twice that having a much bigger budget doesn’t always matter.
“Other clubs such as Bedford also proved that.”