Sean Robinson and his Newcastle Falcons team-mates will finally end their 126-day wait for a game when they open the 2019-20 season at Jersey Reds on Saturday, with the lock-forward determined to hit the ground running.
A recurring arm break severely restricted Robinson’s game time last season, the 28-year-old returning for the last two matches after spending most of the campaign on the sidelines.
Set to play a more central role in their promotion push and fresh from signing a four-year contract extension, Robinson said: “The Rugby World Cup has extended our pre-season a bit which I’m sure no club player is happy about, because you just want to be out there playing.
“That said, I feel like we’re in a great place as a group and the boys are all tremendously excited about starting the season. We’ve worked hard, we’ve put in place a game plan and it’s just a case of getting out there and performing.”
Going into the Championship Cup clash without any competitive rugby under their belts, the Durham University graduate explained: “It’s different going into a fixture without having played any pre-season games, although to cater for that we’ve done quite a bit more full-on work in training than we would normally do during the season.
“We’ve had quite a few full-contact hit-outs against each other, which I realise is still different from a full game, but we feel like we’re ready for the tests that await us.
“It’ll be good for the group to test out in a game scenario the things we’ve been working on across the whole summer, and we’ll definitely benefit from it. The lungs will be blowing a bit, and that brings with it the challenge of staying mentally fresh when we’re physically tired. I guess we’ll see, but it’s great to be playing competitive rugby again and the lads are really buzzing about it.”
Following last season’s relegation the Falcons will have their cards marked by opponents as they seek to regain their top-flight status – not that it will affect Robinson and his men.
“The mental side of the game in many ways is just as important as the physical, and we’ve been working on that as well,” said the man who has made 68 appearances for the club.
“We’re in a different position to last year because we’re not seen as underdogs like we were for many of our Premiership games, so we need to get our heads around the fact we’ll be favourites.
“It doesn’t really change things in a way because we’ve always gone out there with the belief that we can win, but it’s just being aware of a different outside perception and not getting swept away with that. You’ve got to be really professional and earn everything through your actions, and just set aside all the chat about people saying you’re favourites.
“We keep hearing people say that it will be like a cup final for every team we play against this season, and I guess I can see that. When I played for Rotherham a few years ago we went up against Bristol, and that was our real cup final. I’m sure some teams will maybe feel that when they come up against us over the season, but it’s nothing that we can control.
“We’ve just got to be on it every week and hold ourselves up to our own standards, and if we’re accountable to the levels we’ve set then it shouldn’t hopefully matter what the opposition are doing. That’s not through arrogance on our part because we know there are good teams in the Championship, and we’ll definitely be tested on a regular basis.”
Giving full respect to Saturday’s hosts ahead of the 3pm kick-off at Stade Santander International, he added: “Jersey have got a very good pack, I’ve played with a few of them and they’re all good players so they’ll definitely challenge us upfront.
“They’re strong in the mauling game, they have big physical ball-carriers and it’ll be a good test for us. We’re as prepared as we can be, training has been sharp this week and we’re looking forward to the challenge.”
Asked about the change in captaincy with George McGuigan and Michael Young taking over the formal role from Will Welch after seven seasons, Robinson insisted: “There has been a little bit of a change in terms of the ‘captain’ title being moved, but in reality it’s not a huge shift.
“Guys like Micky and George were always very vocal and had a leadership role, and Will with all of his experience and ability is not going to suddenly shrink away from responsibility in that respect. He is still a big voice on the field and around the changing room, and that’s never going to change.”
Spelling out the mission for 2019-20, Robinson allows for no grey area in highlighting a top-flight return as the one and only priority.
“Promotion straight back to the Premiership is clearly our long-term goal for the season but the way you achieve that is just by having a weekly focus on performance in the next game, which is ultimately what will get the points on the board,” said the lock.
“You need to be sharp every single day in your training, in your approach to the games and then how you perform on the weekend. You can’t look too far ahead, you have to respect every single opponent and promotion is by no means guaranteed. We’re going to have to beat some good teams and some good players to go up, and nobody is taking that for granted.
“People ask about pressure, but I don’t see it as pressure. I see it as a driver, something which enables you to achieve your goal, and while there may be external expectations that we’ll turn up and win easily on any given day, none of us are buying into that. If we don’t perform we can quite easily get beat, and that’s the level this competition is at.”
Season tickets for 2019-20 are available by clicking here, calling 0871 226 6060 or from the ticket office in person.