Huddersfield Rugby Union Club have exciting plans in place for their return to National II North which they hope will attract much wider support from the town and, eventually, establish them as a major force in the West Yorkshire game.
The facelift of operations both on and off the field at Lockwood Park comes on the back of last season’s National III North title campaign under forward-thinking head coach Gareth Lewis – and a desire to build towards becoming established National I material with an integrated homegrown feelgood factor.
Six new signings have already been added in Sandal’s county second row Austin Thompson, flying World Sevens winger Dominic Lespierre, county No8 Adam Malthouse from Bradford & Bingley and the younger trio of Sam Walker (from Keighley), Jordan Wood (Barnsley) and Josh Bird from Sheffield Tigers, who visit Lockwood Park on Saturday for a first pre-season friendly (it’s free admission).
The new arrivals will play under skipper Nick Sharpe this season – which begins at Chester on September 6 – while Lewis is also keen to create a pathway to senior rugby for the junior ranks, so that Huddersfield don’t lose their most talented products.
And the club are now marketing a first-ever season-ticket to watch all 15 home league matches in addition to announcing plans for a Past Players Association – under the banner ‘proud to have worn the shirt, proud to support players of the future’ – to which they hope to recruit the likes of Scotland coach Vern Cotter (a former captain) and England centre Luther Burrell.
Mike Lumley, who captained the club for seven seasons up to 1998 and was also involved in promotion as Chair of Rugby after hanging up his boots, will be Honorary President for the first year of the new Association.
“Last season was as good as we could have hoped for in terms of bouncing back at the first attempt into National II, which is where the club wants to be at this stage,” said Lewis, who has overcome a broken collar bone and will be fit to play this season if and when required.
“We enjoyed being champions and all the celebrations, but the focus was immediately on areas we needed to improve, the players we needed to bring in and our plans for taking the club forward as a whole, both on and off the field.
“A lot of the players have been in National Ii before and last time round we had a really bad experience, winning only a couple of games, so the challenge is going to be huge and we can’t underestimate that.
“When you look at the fixture list there are a lot of established clubs with far superior budgets to ours, so on that side it will come down to the work ethic of the players and the work ethic of the coaches to get it right and really embrace the challenges. I feel we are stronger and we are all really looking forward to it – there is a real buzz around the club.”
Huddersfield – who competed well in National II from 2007-08 until relegation in 2012-13 – are still in the market for a fly half but Lewis says build-up work to the campaign has been going well.
After Sheffield Tigers’ visit, Cleckheaton are at Lockwood Park the following Saturday, August 30, before that opening league trip to Chester. The first home game is against Harrogate – one of Lewis’s former clubs – on Saturday, September 13.
“It’s been a very inclusive pre-season and we have been hot on getting everyone involved,” said Lewis.
“We are building it as not just a first team, but it’s a senior squad with Academy and A-team players, so in pre-season we’ve had 30 to 40 lads for every session.
“We’ve been through three different fitness tests involving speed and endurance and they will be tested again before the start of the season.
“Due to the pitches being re-seeded at Lockwood Park, we’ve been training up at Farnley Tyas, which is a cracking place and change of environment, and we’ve had a lot of condition games in addition to the hill sprints up Thurstonland bank, which have been pretty brutal.
“It’s been a good team-building exercise with all the lads pulling together, and once we were back at Lockwood Park, the focus has been a lot more on team strategy, moves, set-plays and the like.
“We’ve also invited Cleckheaton down to do a live set-piece session on scrums and line-outs, because you can’t replicate that in training, and it proved very useful for both clubs.
“We got a lot from it and it just allowed us to put our systems under pressure a little bit. We are certainly hoping to do something similar again in future.”
Lewis says the friendlies against Sheffield Tigers and Cleckheaton – the North I East champions of last season who are now in National III North with Huddersfield YMCA – are valuable workouts.
“I specifically asked for our pre-season games to be back-to-back so the coaching staff can take a look at the lads and make sure everyone gets seen and gets good game time,” he said.
“They will both be good big physical tests for our systems and combinations and, hopefully, they will help us get everything in place for the big kick-off against Chester on September 6.”