OUTGOING Rotherham Titans captain Tom Cruse insists the club can be proud of a “very successful” season despite missing out on the Championship play-off final.
Sunday’s semi-final defeat versus Bristol means Titans’ admittedly faint hopes of promotion to the Premiership were ended again.
In all reality, though, for a squad with such a small budget compared to some in the Championship, reaching the last four for a second successive year is a feat in itself.
Hooker Cruse, who will reach the top flight having signed for London Irish, told The Yorkshire Post: “The chat at the start of the campaign was to get in the top-four again.
“We said we’d take it game by game, but at the same time the plan was always to back up what we did last year.
“As we said in the huddle at the end of Sunday’s game, we’ve done that and got ourselves some silverware, too, by making ourselves the best team in the county (Yorkshire Regiment Trophy).
“That means a lot to the fans and us, too, so all in all it’s been a very successful year.”
Rotherham came out best overall in their league games with Yorkshire Carnegie and Doncaster Knights to take the Yorkshire Regiment Trophy, but they did not quite have the requisite tools to see off Bristol at the weekend.
Having lost the first leg 32-20, they fell 24-16 at Abbeydale despite leading on the hour mark.
“I said afterwards to the boys that it always seems the same every time we play Bristol,” added Cruse, who has been central to the South Yorkshire club’s success since joining from Sale Sharks two years ago.
“We’re good for 60 then have a bad 20. There’s no excuses, though. You look at the quality they could bring off the bench in the last 20 minutes and we just couldn’t compete.”
The 26-year-old is unsure who will prosper between Bristol – who finished top but have crucially lost three play-off finals in six years – and second-placed Worcester, who are striving for an immediate return to the Premiership after last season’s relegation.
“Every time we’ve played Worcester we’ve been beaten by a fair amount whereas with Bristol we’ve only narrowly lost,” argued Cruse. “My heart says Worcester, but at the same time with the results they’ve had against Bristol in the league (losing 23-19 and 30-26) you’d say Bristol.
“I think it’s going to come down to who can get the biggest lead from that first-leg game next week.”
Meanwhile, he thanked Lee Blackett for the head coach’s contribution to his own development since 2013.
Blackett is leaving for the Premiership, too, to join Wasps as backs coach, and Cruse said: “I can’t really explain it to be honest – he’s a hell of a coach and hell of a guy too.
“He’s only young (32) and not long out of the game (as a player) himself so he understands how to treat his players.
“His knowledge of the game is outstanding and it’s really rubbed off on how we’ve played the game.”