A conventional pre-season is not something Newcastle Falcons had the luxury of for a while, but back-rower Chris York believes they can benefit from a welcome dose of stability this time round.
The former Harlequin is among the throng of players to have renewed terms at Kingston Park ahead of the new Aviva Premiership campaign, his first two pre-seasons a mixture of uncertainty and trying to catch up with the competition.
York said: “When I first joined the club two years ago, we started pre-season still not knowing what league we were going to be in, due to the whole London Welsh promotion appeal which dragged on into the summer.
“Last year was difficult with the Championship final being so late in the calendar, on May 29, which meant we only had three weeks off.
“Even then, we were still returning after all the other Premiership clubs for pre-season.
“So, compared to both of those previous years, it feels a lot better at the moment, and like we are finally on a level playing field.”
The 24-year-old had struggled for first-team action for much of last season in arguably the most competitive area of the team, but finished the campaign strongly.
His try at Gloucester helped the Falcons secure two valuable bonus points in their race to avoid the drop, earning the Surrey-born forward a new contract ahead of what is already proving to be a physical summer in the gym.
“We have started well, the players are in a good mood and everyone is working hard ahead of what we all know is a big season,” he said.
“Pre-season looks similar to what it always has done – plenty of testing early on to see where you are, and then programmes issued on the back of it.
“That ensures we start the season with that Premiership standard of fitness you need to succeed at this level, and allows us to compete with other teams in every possible aspect of our preparation.”
York forms part of a Falcons squad which will again be captained by Will Welch, the 24-year-old handed a third season in charge after becoming the club’s youngest ever captain two years ago.
Welch said: “It is really pleasing to be made captain again, and much easier because there are a great bunch of boys who are working really hard, with good leaders behind them.
“This will be my third season as captain, and the way we are going with the new signings we have brought in, and the number of younger guys developing in the squad, things look positive.”
Meanwhile, the Falcons are set to kick off the new campaign without second-row Fraser McKenzie, who is returning to former club Edinburgh.
The 26-year-old had struggled to hold down a first-team place in his maiden campaign after joining the Falcons from Sale Sharks, and hopes a move back to his homeland, to be announced shortly, can help maximise his chances of an international recall under new Scotland coach Vern Cotter.