Excited Harrogate RUFC director of rugby Dave Doherty says he is itching to get going in the new National League Two campaign.
Doherty took over the reins at Rudding Lane following Mike Aspinall’s exit at the end of last season and has promoted a youth progression philosophy for his first year in charge.
Harrogate begin their campaign at home to ambitious league newcomers Hinkley at the weekend and although targeting an improvement on last season, Doherty said player progression was most important.
“We want to be the best club in Yorkshire for developing players,” the new coach said.
“I am really big on performance and we know as a team what we are looking for. We have set plans in place early on in pre-season and it’s about developing that identity as a team.”
Along with Aspinall’s exit, Harrogate have also lost key backs Sam Bottomley, Lewis Minikin and Callum Irvine over the close season.
Doherty has been unable to tie down any new recruits thus far but insists deals to bring players to the club are in the pipeline over the next few weeks. Instead, the former Yorkshire Carnegie and Wasps winger said he wanted to develop a one-club ethos in promoting high-performing second team players.
“Players that were in the second team have to step up and they have to know they are playing for a starting spot in the first team,” Doherty said.
“As a coach I am all about developing players and we won’t just be focusing on the first team.
“We want to bring in video reviews of all second team games as well as the first team and we are looking at the whole club to make sure everyone feels a part of it.
“The boys are really keen to go out there and prove themselves. When they are learning a new philosophy, players are going to make mistakes but I am happy with that. It gives us something to work with.”
In contrast to ‘Gate, Hinkley have had a busy period of recruitment over the summer and have a link with the Leicester academy.
Doherty played against head coach Scott Hamilton when playing at Wasps and expects a tight-knit unit at the weekend.
Doherty said: “We want to show what it means to come to Rudding Lane. We are prepared for a fight.”
Following the exit of record-breaking points scorer Minikin, youngster Charlie Morgan has been given the kicking responsibility and will also replace Irvine at fly-half.
“Charlie has stepped up in pre-season and shown moments of brilliance in games,” said Doherty. “He’s still only a young lad and in terms of managing the game he still has a lot to learn, but so does everybody.
“We have a really good set of forward and they are going ot have to look after a young, exciting back line.”
VERDICT: Dave Doherty has big shoes to fill after Mike Aspinall’s exit at the end of last season and it could be a transitional year at Rudding Lane. The loss of Lewis Minikin, Sam Bottomley and Callum Irvine are three hammer blows to the squad and much will be pinned on Doherty’s coaching ability to bring young, talented colts into the first team fold.
KEY MAN: Jake Brady - the second rower has been captain colossus for Harrogate over the last few seasons under Aspinall and will need to be the driving force once again in the forwards.
ONE TO WATCH: Jonny Coser - Earmarked as a potential star from a young age, the flanker moved into the first team squad last season. Alongside brother Guy, he is one of the club’s rising stars.
BIG RIVAL: Otley - The first meeting of the age-old rivalry comes away on December 10 before Otley head to Rudding Lane for the second last game of the season on April 22.
INS: None confirmed.
OUTS: Callum Irvine, Lewis Minikin (both HullIonians), Sam Bottomley (Doncaster), Mike Aspinall (retired)
FIRST FIVE FIXTURES:
Sat, Sept, 3: Hinckley (H)
Sat, Sept 10: Tynedale (A)
Sat, Sept 17: South Leicester (H)
Sat, Sept 24: Luctonians (A)
Sat, Oct 1: Sheffield Tigers (H)