HARTLEPOOL Rovers will start the season with smiles on their faces - and that is how boss Carl Robinson wants to see it continue.
Rovers take on old rivals Durham City at the Friarage tomorrow with a new coaching combination and new values (kick-off 3pm),
Robinson, who worked alongside previous coach Alan Brown, has teamed up with Graham Puckrin and assistant boss Michael Ainslie.
All three have been impressed with the squad’s work ethic and the spirit throughout the club.
“The players have been first class,” said Robinson. They have all bought into what we are doing and what we’re trying to achieve.
“There have been no arguments, no questioning what we are doing, no bother at all.
“We’ve had two good sessions this week, with over 40 out training.
“Playing with a smile on your face is a big thing.
“This is an amateur game, where we play rugby for the enjoyment.
“I don’t just want the lads to enjoy it – I want to see them enjoying it.
“Obviously you do enjoy it when you are winning, but this game is for fun.
“I want to see smiles on faces.
“I used to watch the lads warm up last season and see them looking miserable.
“You train hard all week to enjoy your game on a Saturday and that’s what we want to see the lads doing.”
A winning start against Durham City would certainly maximise the enjoyment factor.
Tomorrow’s curtain-raiser is a tough one to call.
City suffered a tortuous season in North One East – relegated with just 12 points to their name and morale similarly at rock-bottom.
But they seem to have made some form of recovery under new coach Mark Bedworth.
While pre-season results are sometimes difficult to assess properly, their narrow practice match defeat to West suggests an improvement.
City’s record at West View Road though is not great and this is a wonderful opportunity for Rovers to make a good start in what, on paper, looks a very challenging first month of the season with Guisborough (a), Horden (h) and Medicals (a) to follow.
“You never know which City you are going to get,” said Robinson.
“But my main focus is on us – if we are switched on, we’ll give anyone a game in this league.
“It’s great to have our first match at the Friarage and it would be a massive boost to start with a win.”
Rovers have suffered the blow of losing Chris Sainty, who had a 100 per cent record with the boot in the 34-10 Durham Intermediate Cup win over Gateshead last time out.
Sainty is working but Rovers are able to welcome back the influential Michael Barnfield, who will play at number 10 and take on the kicking duties.
The vastly experienced David Grand comes in for Ian Mulvihill, who had a good game in the cup.
Rovers hope to be able to name the same pack as the unit who took on Gateshead in the cup.
Rovers (from): T King, J Gunn, D Grand, J Evens, A Smith, B Cushlow, M Barnfield, T Pelser, A Flounders, K Maguire, G Wise, D Cookland, M Wilson, A Pinchen, S Grazier, L Maddison, T Church, A Dring (capt)