Gary Hetherington is confident Leeds Carnegie are equipped to last the course in the race for promotion to rugby union’s elite.
The Leeds chief executive cites the club’s strength in depth and the camaraderie around the camp as two key factors as to why he believes they have the staying power in this year’s Greene King IPA Championship.
Leeds’s win over Bristol in front of the Sky television cameras last Sunday was a high-profile notch in the belt buckle of James Lowes’ side.
And the fact they pushed leaders London Welsh all the way earlier in the season also suggests they are a match for anyone in the division.
Leeds might have lost three of their opening 10 games, but they go into the break for the British and Irish Cup just eights points adrift of top spot and in a four-way tie for second place.
That is a lot better than where they were this time last year, when they left themselves needing a sensational six-game win streak to gatecrash the play-offs under Diccon Edwards.
Hetherington said: “I believe we are equipped to be in the mix at the end of the season.
“You can’t make assurances because the division is so much more competitive than before.
“All the teams have improved whereas before there was very much two groups with teams together at the top and teams grouped together at the bottom.
“But this division is all about ensuring you’re in the top four come the play-offs, that you’re fit and healthy and ideally you have some momentum under your belt.
“I believe we’re in a position to do that.
“If you look at the amount of players we had outside the squad on Sunday, with those that are to come back from injury, that’s what encourages me most.
“We have a lot of players to come back and that strength in depth is going to be crucial in lasting the pace.
“There’s still a long way to go but we are putting ourselves in position to challenge.
“We have had some up and down results and some up and down performances, but overall and given the standards of the competition, the supporters of Leeds Carnegie will be pretty pleased with where we are and the promise we are showing.”
Of the high-profile injuries, centre Pete Lucock has a knee ligament injury while flanker Ryan Burrows is out until the new year after undergoing surgery on his knee.
Leeds are also weak at fly-half, with Glyn Hughes the only recognised No 10, though Alex Lozowski has been one of the finds of the season when filling in.
Hetherington says the club are always looking to recruit players and strengthen their hand, but signings aside, he has been encouraged by the development of the squad and the coaching staff.
And he was fulsome in his praise of head coach Lowes, for the role he has played in helping foster a positive atmosphere.
“Jimmy has settled into the job really well,” said Hetherington, whose gamble to appoint a man steeped in rugby league has so far paid off.
“There’s a really good spirit in the dressing room and around the club, and among the players there is a confidence and a belief.
“The team is progressing under Jimmy Lowes.
“We finished strongly last year and overall I would say progress has been made on last season.”