Sam Stuart believes the longest pre-season in recent memory will be money in the bank for Newcastle Falcons once the games start coming thick and fast – Doncaster Knights providing the opposition for Sunday’s home opener.
The Championship Cup clash is a 3pm kick-off at Kingston Park Stadium, forming the second half of a dual-code double header as Newcastle Thunder and Doncaster RLFC meet in rugby league’s Betfred League 1 play-off semi-final at 12 noon.
“Pre-season has been very long this year for reasons beyond our control, and the coaches have done very well in trying to vary the training and just keeping the minds fresh during the four months we’ve had,” said the scrum-half, who started in last weekend’s season-opening 21-8 triumph at Jersey Reds.
“Now that we’ve started playing I think we’ll see the benefits of all that hard work, but we couldn’t be any better prepared. Our strength and conditioning guys have done a great job, I personally feel the fittest I’ve ever been and I believe the rewards will follow once we get deeper into the games.”
Returning to the Premiership at the first attempt remains the Falcons’ stated aim for the season, but with three cup games to kick-off the campaign Stuart sees no reason why the club should not target both competitions.
“Everyone has been very clear about the fact that promotion is our goal for the season, but we want to win the cup as well,” said the man who turns 28 on Friday.
“The mentality of the group is that we want to win some silverware, and if there’s a trophy up for grabs we’re determined not to miss the opportunity.
“It’s also an opportunity to play against the teams we’re going to be meeting in the league later in the season, and if we’ve already beaten them in the cup it’s just another little psychological boost when we go into the re-match in the league.”
Keen to show progression from last weekend’s season-opening victory away to Jersey, Stuart explained: “I wouldn’t say we got eased into the season – it was more like being thrown in at the deep end!
“Jersey is a difficult place to play and they’ve turned over some good sides there, so we always knew it was going to be tough. To come away with the win was good because it wasn’t an easy assignment, but I think it’d be fair to say the lads were a bit disappointed with the performance.
“The fact that it was our first outing of the season maybe makes it a little bit more understandable, and those creases will get ironed out as we go on. We made a lot of errors, we didn’t get through anywhere near enough phases and we also had to rely on our scramble defence a few times when we conceded line breaks.
“We want to play much more quickly and there wasn’t enough ball-in-play time, it became a bit of a stop-start set-piece game but we want to attack more with the ball in hand.”
Well aware that Doncaster Knights will provide similarly sturdy opposition, he said: “Doncaster are a very well structured and well coached side.
“They have a lot of guys who have many years’ worth of Championship experience, so they know what this level is all about. They’re certainly going to be no rollovers, but I see no reason why we can’t win the game if we perform how we’ve prepared.”
Season tickets for the 2019-20 campaign are available by clicking here, calling 0871 226 6060 or visiting the Kingston Park box office, with individual match tickets also available. A Falcons ticket for Sunday’s game also grants entry to the Newcastle Thunder match at 12 noon.