Doncaster Knights reported back for pre-season training on Monday less than eight weeks since the end of the 2017-18 Championship campaign.
The players, who had all been given a schedule to keep them ticking over during the short close-season break, were put through a series of tests to assess their weight and condition prior to getting down to some training which will increase in intensity over the next few weeks.
“The players, especially those who were already here, were all in good shape and we’ve never had any problems when they’ve reported back since I’ve been here,” said director of rugby Clive Griffiths.
Along with the nucleus of last season’s squad there were over half-a-dozen new recruits including the club’s three latest signing announced late last week.
Of those second-rower Nick Civetta needs no introduction to either the Doncaster players or supporters having played a number of games on a dual-registration arrangement with Premiership outfit Newcastle Falcons last season.
“The boy was on a Premiership contract with Newcastle last season and we obviously couldn’t afford to match that but we came up with a compromise,” said the Welshman.
“He loves Castle Park and the spirit within the club and he wants to be here. He did well every time he played for us last season.
“He’s hoping to make the USA World Cup team next year and he wants to be playing regular rugby. He wasn’t getting that up at Newcastle because of the competition for places.
“As well as being very good in the lineout Nick also runs the ball well and he can also hit.”
Another man who will increase the competition for places in the pack next season is Irishman Willie Ryan.
The 27-year-old, who spent two seasons at Rotherham before moving south two years ago, helped Ealing Trailfinders claim the runners-up spot behind champions Bristol last season.
“He is a no nonsense and runs straight up and down and he’s proven himself in this division. When players tackle him they know it and when he tackles them they also know it,” said Griffiths.
“He’ll certainly add competition to what is already looking a strong back-row.
“He’s good in the lineouts and can play in the second-row, though we won’t be playing him there.”
Adding strength to a backline which has seen the departure of centre Andy Bulumakua, fly-halves Dec Cusack and Simon Humberstone and scrum-half Michael Heaney since last season, is 21-year-old utility-back Elliott Creed.
“He had a few injury problems at Gloucester last season but he’s fit again and he’s desperate to play and I’m sure he will prove a good addition to the squad not least because he can play fly-half, centre or on the wing,” said the Doncaster boss.
Griffiths says there will be more new faces at Castle Park before the start of the season.
“I can’t say too much at this moment in time because there are lot of internationals being played during the summer but we’ve probably got another five backs to come in.
“I’ve looked to boost our strength in depth this season, and there are two main reasons for that, and thanks to our benefactors Tony De Mulder and Steve Lloyd we’ve been able to do that.
“A lot of Premiership clubs are cutting back on their squad so we won’t have the same opportunity as in the past to bring in dual-reg or loan players.
“The other factor in needing a bigger squad is the number of injuries as a result of the higher level of impact now due to the players being faster and bigger and the head injury assessment ruling which automatically rules players out for a specific period depending on the circumstances.
“I’ve found myself on a Sunday morning with up to 20 per cent of my squad unavailable for the next game and have had to get on the phone to the likes of Newcastle and Sale.”
Pre-season friendlies have been lined up against Premiership sides Sale Sharks and Newcastle Falcons.
“We play Sale on August 10 prior to which we’ll spend a couple of days training with them and they’ll come to Castle Park the following Saturday. Newcastle will play us at Castle Park on the 25th.
“As I say, both clubs have been very helpful to us and I’d personally like to thank the likes of Dean Richards and Steve Diamond along with others,” said Griffiths.
Knights have reduced the number of warm-up games from four to three, but will also be spend time working with Loughborough University during the build-up to the campaign.