Joel Hodgson believes the Greene King IPA Championship has improved markedly since Newcastle Falcons’ last visit, when he was part of the side which claimed the 2012-13 title.
Now at the age of 27 and preparing for what he hopes will be his second successful promotion, the fly-half knows it will not be plain sailing.
“The league has got more competitive since we were last down here,” said Hodgson, who has scored 424 points in his 117 appearances for the club, including 12 tries.
“A lot more teams are paying out more money to get the players and set-ups that they need, and it’s going to be tough. You have the likes of Ealing and Cornish Pirates recruiting well and really making a push for it, and sides like Jersey and Coventry to name just a couple won’t be easy.
“Teams will want to prove something when they play against us, we need to understand that and deal with it, but in terms of the standard of the league I think it has improved a lot in the time we’ve been away from it.”
Back fit after the broken leg he sustained at Harlequins in November the Newcastle native did return to fitness for the final game of last season, and after a summer of hard work is in perfect shape to attack the coming campaign.
“Everything is going well, it was great to get back for the end of the season and I’m just looking to kick on from there,” said Hodgson, who has also played for Northampton Saints and Yorkshire Carnegie.
“Following the end of the season like all the lads I had a bit of a break, but we’ve been back into it for the past seven weeks getting the work under our belts for a tough year ahead.
“Everyone understands that this is a very long pre-season with the World Cup delaying the start of the games until September 21, so it’s a case of keeping things fresh as well as working hard.
“Our coaches are really good with that man management side in terms of mixing things up for the boys, taking us off-site for certain things and generally just varying the training. We’re looked after really well, there’s plenty of rugby content along with our strength and conditioning work and it’s keeping everyone interested.
“It’s really important that we do lay that groundwork because we’re under no illusions about what’s to come this season, and you can see it coming together already.
“Everyone knows how tough it’s going to be. It’ll be the opposition’s cup final every time we play, and that’s great.”
In no doubt whatsoever as to the target, he added: “The main goal for the season is obviously to get back into the Premiership, and a long way towards ensuring that is by playing at a Premiership standard right across the whole schedule.
“If we perform to the levels we’re capable of there’s no reason why we can’t get promoted straightaway, but clearly nothing is taken for granted because there are plenty of good teams and good players in the Championship.”
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