PRE-SEASON training is a “clean slate” for all of Hartlepool United’s players insists star striker Luke James.
The 19-year-old forward finished top scorer last season, hitting the back of the net 16 times, before an ankle injury brought a premature end to his campaign.
James is nailed on for a place in the starting line-up away to Stevenage on August 9, the opening day of the Sky Bet League Two season.
But he is adamant that no places are guaranteed in Colin Cooper’s first team.
The teenager, currently out in Spain with the rest of the Pools camp, says everyone needs to impress during pre-season training and the upcoming friendly matches against the likes of Sunderland (July 23) and Middlesbrough (July 30).
For his part though, injury-free James has hit the ground running on his return to pre-season and is all geared up for the new campaign.
James told SportMail: “I didn’t give myself too much time off during the summer.
“I went on holiday but was still going to the gym and keeping fit and that is what it is all about, keeping yourself ticking over so that when you come back you aren’t too bad fitness wise.
“I feel good and hopefully that will continue into the new season.
“Pre-season is a clean slate for all the players coming back and the friendlies will obviously help improve fitness and sharpness and it will also help the gaffer decide who he wants in his team.
“As a player you just have to work hard and whatever team the gaffer picks, you have to accept and agree with.
“We have some big games coming up against Sunderland and Middlesbrough when we return from Spain but I can’t wait for Stevenage now on the opening day of the season.
“For me, that is the big one. If we can start the season with a win then everyone will be loving it, us, the fans, the staff.
“It is all about momentum and if you win the first game you get that confidence straight away,” added James, who was constantly linked with a move away from Victoria Park during his impressive last season.
At the weekend Championship side Sheffield Wednesday were the latest side rumoured to be interested in acquiring his services, but talks of a bid have been rubbished.
The striker though is just focused on doing his very best for Hartlepool United - and he has been impressed with the shape and condition of his teammates on their return to training.
“The first couple of days have been really good and it is great to see all the lads again,” added James.
“We had a big run the first day to see where everyone is fitness wise and everybody was looking sharp.
“The new lads (Matthew Bates and Stuart Parnaby) are both really nice and have fitted in really well, which makes it a lot easier and we are getting a good bond with them.
“The trip to Spain will be great to get everybody together and get the team to click both on and off the pitch.
“It is a little bit different as we don’t have any games but the sessions are intense and as long as we all work hard - while also having a laugh - then it should be a great week.
“We all want to have the best season we can possibly have and this week will help set us up for that.”