North Walsham coach Brooks can’t wait for league season to start
- Credit: Archant
North Walsham are eagerly awaiting the new London One North season, which gets under way with a home game against Colchester on Saturday week.
'I can't wait to get started' said Head of Rugby James Brooks as he looked forward to his second year in charge at Scottow.
'Pre-season has gone really well. Training began in early July and we've had good numbers at the sessions where the squad have been working very hard on fitness, skills and our patterns of play.' The Vikings' target is 'to improve on last year' when they finished fourth, rising two places and winning five more matches than in 2015-16.
Notably more resilient, defensively stronger, better at taking their scoring chances and closing out games, supporters could see the side improve as the season progressed. They finished very strongly with 13 victories from the last 15, including good performances against the top three sides.
They will need to carry that form forward into the new campaign as they have some challenging early fixtures. First up on September 2 are relegated Colchester, then Saffron Walden against whom the Vikings won two close games last year. These home matches are followed by a trip to Chingford who finished second last time out, just missing promotion losing 35-33 in the play off game versus Tunbridge Wells from London One South.
This start doesn't phase Brooks: 'It is a tough league with no easy games and it will be good to see early the standard of what we assume will be some of the stronger teams.'
The League includes five new opponents. Colchester and Amersham & Chiltern come down from National League Three while Norfolk rivals Diss, Old Haberdashers and South Woodham Ferrers are promoted. Long standing opponents Thurrock have transferred to London One South whilst Tring were promoted and Barking, Chelmsford and Sudbury relegated.
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There are changes to the squad. Ethan Benny and Jono Lawson have returned home; second row Lawson will be particularly hard to replace. Another second row Chris Kent has left for Sudbury and John Younie has joined Bury St. Edmunds.
The influential Matt Hodgson is out for the season with a knee injury but Jake Duffield is a ready made replacement. Scrum-half Will Findlay is only available in September whilst Jordan Mustard is unlikely to figure in the first team, work commitments preventing him training.
The club is still looking to recruit local players keen to step up the Leagues as Mustard did so successfully last season.
'They are assured of a very warm welcome' said Brooks.
From overseas he has recruited New Zealander Roydon Miller a second or back row forward ('looks good in training') with Lachlan Brown-Bates, an Australian prop arriving shortly. Will Swart ('really high fitness levels'), a South African flanker/ hooker starting a UEA degree, has also joined as has hooker Jake Callender from Fullerians.
There looks as if there could be lots of competition for places amongst the backs. Freddie Henley-Hunter and Will Quinn have rejoined, though the latter's availability could be restricted by work. Proven performers brothers Hal (centre) and Jim Riley (winger/full back) have joined from Holt and Norfolk born winger Dan Smith from Winchester. Another newcomer is winger/full back Adam Howell, an Australian who joined last week.
The build-up has included victory over Kettering last Saturday in a practice match used by both sides to try out different combinations.
This Saturday both the Vikings and Raiders travel to Richmond for matches against the Championship team's third and fourth XVs.
'These will be really hard games and a great opportunity for players to put themselves forward for selection,' said Brooks.