Doncaster Knights skipper Michael Hills is back at the helm and hoping to steer the club into the Championship play-offs for a second successive season.
The flanker made his eagerly-awaited return to action in the Boxing Day Championship derby win over Rotherham Titans at Clifton Lane.
“It’s good to be back playing again but it’s never easy trying to get back up to speed after you’ve been out a long time,” said Hills.
“It’s not so much the first hour or so, it’s the last 20 minutes, but the more I play the fitter I will get.
“Unfortunately, there’s no short cut and there is no substitute for playing to get match fit. No matter how hard you have trained you need at least three or four games to get your fitness levels back up.”
Hills was back in action in the club’s final B&I Cup Pool 2 game at the weekend after missing the trip to Munster.
“We wanted a good work-out ahead of our return to Championship rugby at Bedford this weekend and we got that which we knew that would be the case (even though there was nothing at stake) because Rotherham were never going to come here and just go through the motions.
“Bedford are a good attacking team so it was a good test for us in that respect having to defend well for 80 minutes and take our opportunities - though we missed a few.
“We needed to get back on the horse against Rotherham, and we did just that, because you can’t afford to lose three games on the trot ahead of a return to Championship rugby.
Reflecting on the B&I Cup campaign, Hills said: “We go into every game to win it so to lose three out of four was disappointing.
“On the plus side the competition has given an opportunity for players who haven’t been playing regularly to get some game-time under their belts.
“It was fantastic for academy hooker Alex Keeton to get on at the end for his first team debut which was well deserved because he’s worked hard.
“He’d trained all week with us and was excellent and he did a fantastic job when he came off the bench on Saturday.”
Hills expects more academy players to follow in Keeton’s footsteps.
Looking ahead to the trip to Goldington Road, Hills said: “It’s a tough place to go because they know how to play their sloping pitch very well.
“We’ve battled hard to get up to third place, given we are a different team to last season, and what we’ve got to do is to maintain our place in the top four.
“We’ve got a tough run-in and we have to play the top two at home, but all we are focusing on at this moment in time is the Bedford game.”