New boss Matt Bramald is taking a “realistic” view of Hunslet Hawks’ chances this season.
Hawks were relegated into what is now Kingstone Press League One in 2013, promoted the following year and dropped down again last season.
The competition structure has been overhauled since Hunslet won the Grand Final two years ago and rather than being a three-horse race, at least nine clubs will be hoping to win a place in the Championship.
Bramald, who stepped up from assistant to head coach when Barry Eaton left the club two weeks ago, said: “The perceived ‘weaker’ teams are all stronger now and there’s some pretty hefty trips in there travel-wise.
“We try and minimise that, but it does have a bearing. The top-four play-offs has got to be our target, but we have to be mindful of where we are financially.
“It would be unwise to make any outlandish claims, we need to be realistic. The top-four if we do well and stay healthy is a realistic achievement, but we may have to reassess if we come across a lot of injuries.
“We have got a decent squad, but half a dozen injuries can make it very tough.”
Meanwhile, Featherstone Rovers, Dewsbury Rams and Batley Bulldogs will all enter the Championship campaign in good heart.
Rovers finished a disappointing fifth in last year’s regular season, missing out on a place in the Qualifiers, but bounced back by winning the Championship Shield.
Coach Jon Sharp has rebuilt his squad over the off-season and is gearing up to go at least one place better this term.
“We’ve had 14 leave and 11 come in,” Sharp said. “It has been a big transitional period for us and we have very much addressed weak areas.
“In particular I thought there was a lack of leadership within the group and also a lack of a good quality kicking game.
“I like to think we have addressed that. The guys from Sheffield Eagles have been awesome, really good with their leadership qualities.
“Anthony Thackeray has been great and Darrell Griffin has been absolutely outstanding, leading from the front in just about everything.
“We identified the areas we needed to address and the guys have come in and answered the issues we had.”
Rams finished sixth last year before losing in the Shield semi-finals. Boss Glenn Morrison said: “The goal since I took over have been to improve on and off the field each year.
“I know other teams – who we finished above – have strengthened and that will make it tough.
“But we are aiming for the top-six and to get into that final we were one game short of last year.
“If we can do that it will have been a successful season for us.”
John Kear has overhauled Batley Bulldogs’ squad and believes they are in good shape to improve on last year.
“I think we’ve a much more balanced squad,” said the coach, whose team were ninth at the end of the regular season.
“We’ve got some exciting three-quarters and some experienced playmakers, which we I feel we lacked last year.
“We have retained the forward pack, which I think many would accept was as good as – if not better than – the teams we were playing against.
“We are quietly confident we will have a better than than last year and we have set our sights on the top-six which would give us a home tie in the bottom-eights [Shield].
“And you never know, if things go really well we might frighten a few of the top-four.”