Fit-again centre Tom Penny is aiming to put 11 months of frustration behind him on Saturday when Newcastle Falcons kick off the new season at Jersey Reds.
The 24-year-old was coming into fine form when he suffered an ACL knee injury last autumn in a Heineken Champions Cup victory over Montpellier, having started in the away victory over Toulon the week before.
Now back to full fitness and with an elongated pre-season under his belt, Penny said: “The club have been great, and with all the injuries I’ve had it would have been very easy and understandable for them if they’d just turned round and released me.
“I’m extremely thankful for the way they’ve stuck by me and the care I’ve received, and it’s down to me now to start repaying them by my performances on the field.
“It’s been 11 months now since I last played a game, so in a way I’m one of the few players in the squad who have been grateful for the extended off-season this year.
“A big part of this season for me is just getting back into the swing of things, trying to put together a good number of games and staying fit. Obviously the common goal for the squad is to gain promotion, but having missed so much of the last couple of years it’s just great to be out there again with the boys.”
Keen to hit the ground running despite his team going into Saturday’s Championship Cup tie without any pre-season friendlies, Penny said: “Some of the Championship clubs have already had pre-season games but we’ve taken the approach of making training more lively, introducing some more contact work than we would typically do during the season.
“We’ve prepared really well, we feel like we’re in a good place and everyone now just wants to get into it. It’s crucial that we get off to a good start to set the tone for the whole year, and there’s no time for slow starts. We want to set our stall out right from the first game.”
Giving full respect to a Jersey side who won away against the Russian national team during pre-season, the Northumbrian said: “We’ve looked at their games and done our analysis as we would do for any team, and we know what to expect.
“We’ve got areas we feel we can target and exploit but they’re a good side, and we know it’ll be a tough test out there. They’re a good all-round side. They have a big pack which we can hopefully move around a bit to create some scoring opportunities, but that’s easier said than done.
“There will naturally be bits of rustiness with it being our first hit-out, so it’s trying to minimise those, and we’re just going over there with the mind-set of wanting to get the job done.
“We’ve got a few Jersey old boys who have given us an idea of what to expect from them, although most of that has been in the forwards to be fair. Those guys can hopefully give us a great platform to feed off, and it’s up to us to try and finish those opportunities.”
Newcastle Falcons’ first home game of the season is on Sunday September 29 when Doncaster Knights visit Kingston Park Stadium in a 3pm kick-off. Tickets are available now by clicking here or calling 0871 226 6060.