THEY WILL be the underdogs in an incredibly tough competition, but new signing Jack Lee is confident Hunslet Hawks will surprise some people this year.
Hawks, newly-promoted from the third tier, have it all to do in the Kingstone Press Championship against the likes of relegated Super League clubs Bradford Bulls and London Broncos, and ambitious Leigh Centurions and Featherstone Rovers.
But Lee, who has past Championship experience, has painted a bright picture of the prospects for Hawks’ new-look squad, put together by coach Barry Eaton and director of rugby Darren Williams.
“A lot of people will write us off,” said the 26-year-old hooker, who is among 14 new faces on Hawks’ 2015 playing roster.
“We are the underdogs, as the newly-promoted team, but we really fancy our chances.
“We are aiming for the top-six or top-eight. That is our goal as a team and the way we’ve been training, I don’t see why it’s not achievable.”
Lee began his career in Castleford Tigers’ academy and played for Featherstone under Daryl Powell before four years with York City Knights, where he was player of the year in 2013 and where he was captain last season.
“The main reason for moving was to be a lot closer to where I live,” said Lee, who is from the Castleford area.
“I have travelled for a lot of years to York and I was sick of travelling on the A64.
“My girlfriend and I have just had a baby, she’s only 10 months old and I didn’t want to be travelling any longer than I had to.
“It is only 15 minutes now straight from work and that suits me a lot more and also it’s a new challenge – and I am always set for new challenges.”
The odds are stacked against Hawks – a supporter-run club which will have a smaller budget than their Championship rivals – but Lee has signed a two-year contract and is already confident that he has made the right decision.
“It has been going really well,” he said of his early days at Hunslet. “It has been hard, with having a lot of new faces at the club, but we’re gelling really well together.
“They have brought a lot of good players in and the majority of them have come from the Championship, so they’ve recruited really well. It is hard with a new team, but the way training has gone we’ve not had a problem and we can’t wait to play and show what we can do.”
Hawks had been due to face Featherstone in a trial game last Sunday, but that was called off due to problems with Rovers’ pitch.
Leeds Rhinos will visit South Leeds Stadium for the annual Lazenby Cup tie on Sunday, January 18 and Lee said: “I don’t know what their side will be, but it will be a decent test of our fitness and our strengths and weaknesses.
“I started in the Championship five or six years ago and every year it seems to get better and better. The standard of rugby is improving all the time and it is about staying on top fitness-wise. That is the key, players’ fitness and strength, because there’s going to be some really strong sides this year.”
Hawks’ campaign begins away to Featherstone on February 15 and they travel to Bradford on March 8, after successive derbies against Batley Bulldogs and Dewsbury Rams. Every game will be a challenge, but Lee said he is excited rather than daunted by the prospect.
“Every player wants to get better,” he said. “Everyone wants to play to the best of their capabilities.”