WORTHING Raiders Rugby Club embark on a historic new chapter on Saturday with their long-awaited National 1 debut.
At 3pm in the middle of the Yorkshire Dales, Raiders will – for the first ever time in their history – kick-off in the third tier of English rugby.
It is a day the club and its ever-growing contingent of supporters have been looking forward to since Rob Smith’s dramatic added-time try and Joe Govett’s conversion secured them a dramatic 28-26 play-off victory at Stourbridge to achieve promotion.
The wait is now almost over as Wharfedale – a club with a rich history in National 1 – play host to Raiders’ special day.
Head coach Kieron Dawson believes a huge amount of hard work and sacrifices over the summer will put his side in good shape for their new challenge – and the former Ireland international has his eyes on the top half of the table.
He said: “The players have come back very, very fit and I can do nothing but praise the attitude. Over the summer at Roundstone Lane, we have brought in strength in our coaches and the players have thrived and have come back fitter and stronger.
“They do work very hard and sacrificed a lot last season and have sacrificed a lot this. We have done hard yards and at time when you are tired and brawling, you need that work to have been done. We know we have worked hard, are in good condition and well prepared to do things in the league.
“It is all about confidence for the players now. I expect there are some (nerves). I am still a very young coach and do not know what to expect and I am still learning, so there are nerves for me as well.”
Raiders have strengthened over the summer, bringing in a host of new faces, some of whom with National 1 experience. Liam Perkins and Simon Gaynor have joined, from Ealing, Ben Loosemore has joined from Bath Academy and England under-20s James Chisholm from Harlequins.
Former Coventry and Richmond prop Kerry O’Sullivan, Dan Sargent, Matt Peters (Portsmouth), Matt Lasis (Brighton College) and Ed Kittow (Hove) have also joined, while Kiba Richards has returned from New Zealand where he was offered an NPC contract.
Dawson will also be sticking by last year’s promotion-winning players, who he feels have earned their place.
He said: “We have brought in a few new players and they have settled in well, although a couple have little niggly injuries. We’ll look to play the players from last season to start with, they’re the guys that got us here and they’ll keep their jerseys. It’s up to the new guys coming in to take those jerseys away when they get a chance.
“Behind closed doors, we are very optimistic. From the squad, the skill level and brand of rugby we play, it will be hard for teams to keep with it. It’s if we have the physical side, if we can do that side, I think a top-half ambition is realistic.”
On Wharfedale, Dawson added: “They’ve strengthened over the summer and will be looking to improve on last season after finishing near the bottom. It’ll be a big marker for us to see where we are and it’s quite exciting with an overnight trip away from home.”