RUGBY LEAGUE: Benson confident Oxford can make big impression

8:00am Friday 28th February 2014

By Mark Edwards

OXFORD RL head coach Tony Benson feels his side are in good shape ahead of the Kingstone Press Championship One season.

London Skolars come to Iffley Road on Sunday, with Benson convinced that his new-look team will benefit from last year’s experience.

Oxford ended their first campaign in sixth place, reaching the end-of-season play-offs.

But Benson is hoping for more this time around.

“We have had a year to develop our system and develop our players,” said Benson.

“The players we have brought in this season have more experience at this level and we are certainly fitter with the brilliant work our strength and conditioning coach Sy Wiggall has put in.

“I also believe that we have a more exciting attacking side and this will certainly play to our advantage when teams come to our place.”

Oxford have made a number of changes to their squad, with the club adopting a more local feel.

The most notable signings include the University of Gloucestershire All Golds quintet of Jordan Rice, Sam Blaney, Rory Sharratt, Callum Mulkeen and Yannic Parker.

Going the other way is Shaun Robinson, who has moved up to the Championship with Dewsbury.

Martin Roden has retired, while Oli Johnson has moved to Dubai.

Benson knows it will be tough for Oxford to compete with some of the bigger teams, who have joined forces with professional sides to boost their squads.

“The one thing we can’t control is the opposition,” added Benson.

“The teams who have come down are stronger, and it is going to be very competitive especially as there is a big incentive with the re-structuring taking place next season.

“It is going to be a very strong competition, but we have not taken our eyes off our goals of developing players in the south and making the area stronger.

“We also want to get the game played in schools and colleges and I believe we will see this start to come to fruition this season.”

Benson is optimistic of a good start to the season on Sunday, but admits Oxford are not sure exactly what to expect against Skolars.

“London Skolars are an unknown team, who have made a number of changes in the off-season,” he said.

“However we know they will be a strong side in the forwards.”

Benson has a fully-fit squad to choose from for the opening match.

OXFORD RL SQUAD

Baird, Bentley, Benson, Blaney, Blewitt, Brooker, Crabtree, Connick, Clarke, Davies, Ellison, Evans, Hadden, Hoggins, Lynch, J Morris, S Morris, Mulkeen, Newton, O’Keeffe, Osborn, Parker, Rice, Roden, Rowland, Sharratt, Slade-Jones, Thompson, Winfield, Wright.

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