Yorkshire clubs give good cause for early optimism

Lee Blackett of Rotherham Titans
Lee Blackett of Rotherham Titans
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With no Yorkshire representation in the top flight of domestic rugby union, critics might argue that the game is in decline in England’s largest county.

Yet it would be foolish to make such an assumption based only on the tip of the iceberg.

Granted, exposure and finances are healthier at the summit of the sport, but a glance down the national pyramid as the first month of the 2013-14 season draws to a close, casts a far brighter light on the strength of union in the White Rose.

It may only be early days but the pacesetters in the Greene King IPA Championship are Rotherham Titans.

A division below them, Doncaster Knights have taken to the task of bouncing straight back from relegation from the second tier, by winning all three of their opening games in National One to underline their status as the team to beat in that division.

In National Two North, Otley – once a great name fallen on hard times – have shown flashes of their old self this September in amassing three straight wins that sees them positioned nicely among the fast starters.

And even in the fifth tier, Huddersfield have come out of the blocks quickly to move to within a point of the summit after picking up a bonus point in all but one of their hat-trick of National Three North wins to date.

It could all change this afternoon, with each of those four teams now having a target on their backs for opponents who are out to make an early-season statement of their own.

But why not bask in the glow while it lasts.

And encouragingly, representatives of each club says there is more to come.

“We couldn’t have done better than 10 points and confidence is very high but we have kept our feet on the ground because we realise we have lots to work on,” said Rotherham Titans head coach Lee Blackett, who takes his side to Moseley today.

“Even last week, scoring 79 points (against Ealing Trailfinders), there was still areas of our game we could have improved upon.

“So we feel that this is the first real test of what we are all about and we’ll know more about who we are as a team come 5pm.”

Rotherham brushed aside Moseley 42-24 on the opening day of the season, a fixture that was played at Doncaster’s Castle Park and preceded a defeat for Leeds Carnegie at the hands of Nottingham.

“For us the Castle Park game was like a home game, we even have some guys who live closer to Castle Park than they do Clifton Lane,” said Blackett.

“We had a lot of fans there and it made it a great atmosphere for us to play in.

“This is a totally different test.

“This is Moseley’s first home game of the season and they’ll be raring to go, just as we were last week against Ealing.”

Leeds’s defeat to Nottingham came because of a disappointing performance but they bounced back quickly against Cornish Pirates last Friday night.

Blackett played for a number of years at Leeds, and given their pedigree and budget, he believes they will again be the team best equipped to fly the flag for Yorkshire this season.

“It’s been a great start from a lot of Yorkshire teams and it’s very good to see,” said Blackett.

“I know there’s no top-flight representation, but I’ve spent a lot of my career at Leeds and I know they’re built for the Premiership, and they’re among the favourites for promotion again this season.

“They’ve got a great squad and they have a great opportunity to do it this year.”

Of all the teams who have flourished early season, Doncaster are the ones that everyone expects to do well.

Operating full-time in a league predominently part-time, Clive Griffiths’s side have so far lived up to their billing, though the Welsh taskmaster is demanding more.

“We were 38-3 up last week against Worthing before allowing them to finish strongly,” said Griffiths, who is expecting another unwelcome environment to take his team into today at Cinderford.

“We didn’t know when to run, when to pass and when to kick. And our discipline was very poor as well, so there is plenty for us to work on.

“But at the end of the day the table reads Doncaster top with three wins from three, so we have got to be happy with that.

“National One is proving a different challenge to what we are used to but we are adapting quickly to the challengers we are facing.”

James Tiffany’s Otley have won three out of three in National Two North and look to continue that run at Birmingham Solihull today.

Tiffany said: “It’s been a pleasing start and it gives the boys some confidence. We’ve had some good spells and scored some amazing tries.

“We have set ourselves certain goals and the first is to see where we are at Christmas and then re-assess from there.

“The other goal is more short-term, to be a better rugby team each week.

“If we achieve that we’ll give ourselves an opportunity.”

And in National Three North, Huddersfield have begun their first season since relegation in a flurry of points.

However, just as with their Yorkshire counterparts who are not getting too carried away, Huddersfield manager Lee Paxman knows the challenge of booking an instant return to the fourth tier is a difficult one.

“The atmosphere has changed massively from where we were at the end of last season to where we are now,” said Paxman.

“As well as the first team we’ve had the second and third teams winning in recent weeks as well, so as a club as a whole we’ve won six out of six.

“We’ve got a good squad and the league is very strong this year and we know that bouncing straight back is not going to be easy.

“So we are taking this start to the season as a very good sign and a big achievement.

“We are staying as grounded as possible. We do believe we’ll have a better understanding of where we are after six games and we’re halfway there with three wins already.

“But there are some tough games coming up, starting today with Sale who have recruited heavily, then it’s Morley away next week which is always a tough place to go to.

“We know that there is plenty more work for us to do.”