History will be made in Hemel Hempstead on Sunday when two of the latest additions to Rugby League’s professional ranks meet in the Kingstone Press Championship One play-off.
In their first season in the pro divisions, Hemel Stags and Oxford RL have both exceeded expectations in making the top six and both sides are now anticipating to their first taste of play-off rugby.
Just making the play-offs is massive according to Hemel coach Troy Perkins.
“It’s a great achievement from everyone involved in the club, the players, support staff and the coaches,” he said.
“Our goal at the start of the season was to make the play-offs and to qualify with three games remaining was massive for us.
“It’s been a long road. We started training three times a week in November and the boys have bought into what we’re doing.
“There’s been a lot of commitment from a lot of players along the way but we’ve achieved our first goal and now hopefully we can progress in the play-offs.
The excitement has been building all week, according to Perkins. “We trained earlier this week and the place was buzzing,” he said. “All the boys are really looking forward to it. Play-off footy is what we all play for.”
Their form hasn’t been great over the last few weeks, having been beaten by both London Skolars and Gateshead Thunder but Perkins is confident that his team will be at their best on Sunday and the fact that they beat Oxford 30-16 at Pennine Drive in August will give them confidence.
“We’re confident in our own ability and playing at home is a massive advantage for us,” he said.
“We’ve lost a couple of players recently through injuries and other reasons. Jermaine Coleman did his knee last Saturday in the team run and Mason Caton-Brown, who has been an important part of our team this season, went back to the London Broncos to make his Super League debut and will remain with the Broncos this week.
“Of the team that’s likely to play on Sunday, there are seven local juniors and 10 under the age of 21. It’s a young squad and they are going to improve over the years. They will learn from what we’ve done over the whole season and will learn from whatever we do on Sunday.”
With such an inexperienced squad has the approach to the play-offs been different? “I don’t think we’ll approach it much differently, we know we’re on our last chance.
“With those recent losses the boys knew in the back of their mind that it didn’t really matter but this week it will be sudden death. They don’t need reminding it’s do-or-die.”
Tickets for the game, which kicks off at 3pm, cost £12 for adults, £6 for concessions (U18s, Dacorum Card holders, over 60s) and £1 for U16s