Esher captain Tom Cheeseman has warned Leeds Carnegie that his side are high on confidence and eyeing a big shock at Headingley Carengie on Sunday.
Esher sit bottom of the Championship pile and will be forced to release players if relegated with RFU funding dropping from around £320,000 in their current division to just £7,000 for National One clubs.
However, the Surrey club approach the game with their tails up following last weekend’s stunning 24-14 comeback victory over London Scottish and Cheeseman is confident the only way is up.
Leeds are heading for the promotion play-offs and Esher contrastingly the relegation pool but tomorrow’s visiting captain is still in bullish mood.
“From the outside you would think that Esher are really struggling but we are confident and being underdogs is probably the best thing in sport,” said Cheeseman, whose side lost the home fixture to Leeds 20-15 in November.
“You have less pressure on you and you can play your rugby.
“We feel we put a statement out with the way we played against Scottish in the second half and it’s all coming together now.
“I think the best thing about this club is that we are quite tight as a unit, all the boys are good friends and socialise together, inside and outside the club.
“I see the win over Scottish as the first step of the journey that will end with the play-offs and us staying up and the guys will figure out their futures from there.
“In all sports, every player wants to play at the highest level they possibly can and we know we’re all playing for contracts. But players don’t think about the future until it actually happens.
“Sport is a weird job in many ways. You get an injury and you can be out of contract or you get a long-term injury and your career might be over.
“But as a squad we have always known that we can stay up and that we could play the rugby that could keep us well above the bottom four and even mid-table.
“We have now got a lot of our experienced players back and that is a key factor. They know what to do at the right time and it’s all the little things that make the difference.”
Michael Stephenson returns for Leeds at full-back tomorrow whilst new signing Halani Aulika will make his debut at loose-head prop.
The Tongan international can play on either side of the front row but is awarded the number one shirt for his debut.
Carnegie also welcome back England Under-20 forwards Chris Walker and Dominic Barrow to the pack although Tommy Bell misses out this week.
Tomorrow’s encounter will be the first of three in seven days for Diccon Edwards’ men with last weekend’s postponed clash at Nottingham now taking place next Wednesday with a 2pm kick-off.
Fifth-placed Leeds then end the regular season with next Saturday’s trip to fourth-placed London Welsh making tomorrow’s tie the easiest on paper of the remaining trio but Edwards is in cautious mood.
“We had a really tough game against them at Esher earlier in the season and I said at the time that it would be our toughest game of the year because of the expectations around the game,” he said.
“Because they are bottom, people assume that we will win but they are a very good side and come into this game on the back of a morale-boosting win over London Scottish.
“We know we will need to be at our best to produce our best performance and we are expecting a hard game from Esher.”
Leeds Carnegie: Stephenson, Blackett, Thornley, Barrow, Lucock, Ford, Cliff, Aulika, Titterell, Young, Pendlebury, Barrow, Burrows, Walker, Rowan.
Replacements: Nilsen, Lockwood, Mustafa, Hemingway, Beck, Shaw, Davies.
Esher: Daniels, Stegman, Cheeseman, Cruickshanks, Mackenzie, Atkinson, Stuart-Smith, Millard, Corrigan, Elosu, Alexander, Inglis, Stitcher, Synnott, Goodman. Replacements: Mayhew, Renwick, Macfarlane, Campbell, Little, Wright, O’Grady.