The 2017-18 Championship campaign may have only just ended but Doncaster Knights centre Lloyd Hayes is already looking ahead to the start of next season.
Hayes has every reason to be looking forward to the future after recently signing a new two-year deal.
The former Rotherham man only returned to the side in the closing weeks of the campaign after recovering from a serious mid-season knee injury.
As with any player sidelined with a serious injury and out of contract at the end of the season, Hayes admitted that he worried about his future at Castle Park.
“Fortunately the club supported me really well during my rehabilitation and Clive Griffiths told me that they would be offering me a new contract as long as I proved my fitness before the end of the season,” he said.
“Obviously the club wanted to make sure that I’d be fit for the start of the season when planning for it, which is understandable.
“I was happy with how things went in the games, though it was a bit up and down in terms of results particularly the big win over Ealing at Castle Park and the big defeat at Bristol the following week.
“I think those two games, and the massively contrasting results, probably summed our season up.
“It was disappointing to lose at home to Jersey in our last game of the season,” he added.
“We didn’t play well in the first half but we played a lot better in the second.
“I don’t think it was a hangover from the Bristol defeat and it’s hard to put my finger on what went wrong in the first half but things didn’t quite click.
“But, as I say, we turned it on in the second half and were perhaps unfortunate in the end not to pick up a win.”
Some people will have pointed the finger at the officials, but not Hayes.
“I’ll never slag a referee off because it’s a job I’ve never done myself and I’ve got a lot of respect for them,” he said.
“Apart from the B&I Cup game against Leinster A we’ve generally been in contention in the games we’ve lost and that’s reflected in the number of losing bonus points we picked up.
“The target next season is to try and play as well as we did against Ealing and if we can get anywhere near that performance on a regular basis then the ‘fear factor’ for clubs visiting Castle Park will certainly be back.
“Hopefully we’ll also have less injury problems than the season just gone.
“Injuries had a massive impact on the club last year coupled with what happened to Ian (Williams).
“The league is definitely getting tougher every year and next season will be no different with newly-promoted Coventry – with the signings they’ve made they look like being a strong side.
“Obviously we’ve lost Bristol, but I’d expect relegated London Irish (the 2016-17 Championship winners) to be a strong side again at this level.
“It’s going to be a very tough league but we’ve proved last season on our day that we have a very strong side.
“We’ve lost some good players but we also look to have made some good signings including two very good forwards, Toby Williams and Tom Calladine from Rotherham.”