Newcastle Falcons’ Simon Hammersley looks ahead to the new Gallagher Premiership season for TRU.
Last year, we got into the top four and at the start of the season, we probably expected we could do it while people outside the club probably didn’t think it was possible.
A few years ago, we finished towards the bottom, then eighth place and now fourth so hopefully we can keep building on that.
We realistically set out to get into that top four and get Champions Cup rugby. Obviously, we got both of those which is huge for the club. Having Champions Cup rugby back here for the first time for quite a few years is a sign and a statement from the club.
Squad depth wise, we were also good. We were lucky with injuries. Some of those big teams didn’t have that depth and a few injuries meant they looked a bit thin. For us, I think we managed to get on the good side of injuries.
Also, a few of the boys have been here seven or eight years and then there are a few like me or have played for the club for three or four years so I think we built that experience together which really paid off.
I think it is all about taking your chances. When I joined the club five years ago, I came with nothing to lose. I wasn’t sure if I was going to stick with rugby or go on to a different career so when I got told I was getting thrown in straight away, I thought, I might as well go for it!
Playing at Welford Road was my first game so it doesn’t get bigger. If any of the younger boys ever ask me anything, you do have to say it is a bit of a waiting game.
You do have to wait to get your opportunities and the way Dean [Richards] and Dave [Walder] work is that if you play well enough when you get your opportunity, they will stick with you.
I think university rugby is huge. To come in at 18, you see boys who are good enough at that age and that is very impressive. I think with a lot of boys, both in terms of life skills as well as rugby, you need to develop your personality and you need to develop physically so I think university is a huge thing.
TEAM NEWS: Flying winger Adam Radwan makes his first Gallagher Premiership start for Newcastle Falcons on Sunday when champions @Saracens visit Kingston Park Stadium https://t.co/UXiHf8uqYK pic.twitter.com/BDpNAtfnx4— Newcastle Falcons (@FalconsRugby) August 31, 2018
Now, there is a big push for careers after rugby so there is nothing better than having that degree already behind you. It makes you a bit more relaxed when you are in the professional atmosphere because you know you have got something to build on after rugby as well.
Back three wise, we’ve got George [Wacokecoke] at Northumbria University, Adam [Radwan] through the academy, Charlie [Wilson] and Ben [Stevenson] who were at Durham University and they are all really talented and it makes me feel old!
As long as university rugby sticks with what we had when I was at Durham - which was running with ball in hand, improving your skills levels and fitness - then I think it is the perfect transfer to professional rugby.
It is the first time a lot of this squad will experience Champions Cup rugby so that is obviously a huge step up.
We start with Toulon away, but I think we have got a good group. If we can back ourselves at home, which I think we will, we can take a couple of scalps away and then you never know because you can get through to the knockouts.
League wise, I think it is a matter of consolidating and hoping to build on finishing fourth. It will be a very tough league this year, but we are pretty well prepared.
You couldn’t pick a tougher start than Saracens, but I don’t think it is a bad time to play them to be honest! It is a new season. We saw London Irish beat Quins at Twickenham last year so as you go into it, no-one knows any form so I think it is a great time to play them and hopefully we can get a big crowd at Kingston Park. It would be great to kick off with a win.