Burnell impressed with recruits at new-look Rotherham

WITH 25 players coming in, and another 29 going out, it does not take a genius to recognise that the 2016-17 season represents a significant change for Rotherham Titans.
Rotherham Titans Head Coach Justin BurnellRotherham Titans Head Coach Justin Burnell
Rotherham Titans Head Coach Justin Burnell

It is not only on the field where alterations have been made either; John Clarke, the former Northampton Saints centre most recently with Yorkshire Carnegie, announced his retirement this week at the age of 32, revealing he will be joining Rotherham as backs coach.

Admittedly, it was always clear that head coach Justin Burnell, who arrived in February to replace the sacked Mark Jones and set about a successful fight to avoid relegation, would want a clear-out to build the squad in his own guise.

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A first genuine glance of what they will now resemble will be seen when they open their Championship campaign tomorrow at home to London Welsh, opponents the 49-year-old Welshman guided into the Premiership in 2014.

Centre Will Owen, one of only nine players who remain from last season’s troubled campaign, has been installed as captain, but there will be 1o new recruits around him in the starting line-up tomorrow.

Former Leicester Tigers scrum-half George Tresidder, wing Jake Henry, promoted from Darlington Mowden Park, and Cameron Hudson, the 21-year-old centre signed from Wharfedale, all debut.

Loosehead prop Toby Williams is the only familiar face in the pack with the other seven fowards all making their competitive bows for the South Yorkshire club.

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“I’ve been very impressed with the new faces we’ve brought in,” said Burnell.

“They’ve really bought in to what we are trying to achieve and we’re all now looking forward to the start of the campaign.

“We’ve had a good pre-season and the boys have worked really hard; in fact it’s been as tough a pre-season as I’ve been involved in for a few years and hopefully that will bode well for what’s ahead.”

Welsh, of course, under-performed badly last term, failing to even make the play-offs after their relegation from the Premiership.

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The Championship is a tough environment and we kick off against London Welsh, who are traditionally very strong in the division,” said Burnell.

“They’ll obviously be very disappointed with their performances in the league last year and I would imagine they’ve got to make a big statement this year to keep things going.

“But they’re no different to any other side in the division and we’ll give them the respect they deserve.

“However, we’ll be focusing more on ourselves and on the things we want to accomplish,” he said.

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“We have a good, young side that is eager to prove themselves at this level and they’ll be eager to put in a performance.”

Before last season, Rotherham had made the top four in each of the previous two campaigns under Lee Blackett before he switched to Wasps.