YORKSHIRE Carnegie back-row Ollie Stedman has warned derby rivals Rotherham Titans his new side are intent on winning promotion this season.
Stedman moved back to Headingley for a second spell this summer after helping Doncaster Knights shake up the Championship last term.
Carnegie may have fallen short in last season’s semi-finals but they have started the new campaign with four wins from as many games and hope to make that five at Clifton Lane today.
Stedman missed Sunday’s latest victory against London Scottish and, after a hand injury, is not yet back in Bryan Redpath’s side but believes the club’s intense training regime is paying off.
“It’s gone really well,” the 25-year-old told The Yorkshire Post.
“We had a really tough pre-season and it’s showing already with four wins from our opening four games.
“In those friendlies, Bath put out a really strong side but Wasps went absolutely full on. We didn’t get a particularly good result but we learned a lot a about the standard of where we want to be as a club and as a team.
“Wasps are likely to be challenging for the the Premiership this season and that’s where we want to be at some stage; it helped us realise where we need to raise our levels.”
Basingstoke-born Stedman played two games for Carnegie in 2010-11 after coming through their academy while at university but made his mark at Newcastle Falcons in 2012, helping them earn promotion.
He moved to London Welsh the following season, playing his part as they also moved up into the top flight, and then played five Premiership games with them.
However, Stedman fell out of favour – current Rotherham head coach Justin Burnell was in charge of Welsh at the time – and moved to Doncaster on loan in 2014-15.
“Obviously, playing for Welsh in the Premiership at that time wasn’t great for anyone,” he said, the side losing all 22 matches.
“But moving to Doncaster was brilliant for me. I can’t fault anyone there or the club, it’s a wonderful place.
“We finished second last season and nearly pipped Bristol in the play-offs so I loved it.”
Rotherham have won twice so far, an opening day win over Welsh and last week’s 18-8 success at Richmond sandwiching a 31-30 home defeat to London Scottish and loss at Doncaster.
Stedman, who played in the same England Under-20s side as current internationals George Ford and Maku Vunipola, said: “It’s another Yorkshire derby, one of four we’ll have this season, and it will be tough.
“It’s a small pitch down there and the weather usually plays a part as it’s quite exposed.
“They have gone back to their traditional style of rugby that they used to have under (Andre) Bester – big, physical, tough.
“I’ve played with Will Robinson at Welsh and he is a good player with all the skills; he’s a good kicker and still only young, too. We don’t want to let him get too much front-foot ball and we’ll have to make sure we deal with that by challenging Rotherham all over the park.”
But he has a fight on for his place at Carnegie given their current N0 8 – his preferred position – is the club’s dynamic captain and former Rotherham talisman Ryan Burrows, rated the best player in the division in that position last season.
Stedman has operated at blindside flanker at times and insisted: “It’s not a problem for me; I don’t really mind where I play as long as I’m in that back-row.
“If I can play and make my impact I’m happy.
“We’re working pretty well together; we’re two pretty similar players .
“We do have different attributes and skills, too, and I think we complement each other well. We’re growing together.
“When you add in Richard Mayhew, too – such a big, back-rower, and then guys like Richard Beck, who has all the skills plus other players like Chris Walker, Andy Saull and Josh Bainbridge – classic opensides – we’re confident whoever’s in there.”
Rotherham have made seven changes to their starting line-up.
A new half back combination of Will Robinson and Matt Dudman start as Will Goodwin moves to full-back and Will Thomas switches on to the wing.
A new front row of Toby Williams, Joe Graham and Danny Herriott come in, while Dan Grange comes in at blindside and at No 8 Tom MacDonald makes his debut.