ROCHFORD Hundred will finally kick off their National Two South campaign this weekend, 18 months since winning promotion.

Hundred head to Esher for the club’s first ever match in the National Leagues.

And head coach Danny Cleare cannot wait to finally be back in action after the whole of last season was wiped out by the coronavirus pandemic.

“We are really looking forward to it,” said Cleare.

“We’ve all obviously experienced unprecedented times over the last year and half and a massive part of our lives was taken away when rugby was stopped.

“So to finally have that back, and to get that match day buzz again is going to be very welcoming.”

Rochford worked their way into the National Two South after securing three promotions in succession.

But Cleare admitted preparations for the forthcoming campaign had been far from ideal.

“It has been the toughest pre-season I’ve ever been a part of as a player or coach,” said Cleare.

“Players having to book late holidays due to travel restrictions, players picking up niggles due to lack of match practice, and players getting pinged and having to self-isolate.

“It’s just led to a very disruptive period but every club is in the same boat and that doesn’t detract from the excitement going into the first league game this weekend.”

However, Cleare also feels Rochford are kicking off the campaign with a tricky test.

“A lot of people are predicting Esher to be right up there this season and they’re a club that comes with a huge history and reputation,” said Cleare.

“I’m expecting nothing other than a skilful, abrasive and well drilled team and we know that we need to match that.

“But that just excites us and energises us even more to put in a performance.”

And, despite the difficulties, Rochford have used the enforced break to try and improve themselves.

“The biggest positive from the prolonged time off has been time to pause and reflect and this has allowed us to improve some things within the club,” said Cleare.

“Work has been done within the club to improve our match day experience for the supporters.

“Work has gone in to looking to improve the provision of the mini and youth and a lot of effort has gone in to improve the quality of the first team pitch.

“There is a real genuine feeling that we are looking as a club to push on.

“We have also had some staff changes and have made a few additions to that promotion squad giving us some extra quality and depth. “ And that new look squad is relishing the season ahead.

“As a club we have made history getting to the National Leagues for the first time in its existence so everyone within the club is really excited to see how we do,” said Cleare.

“Fundamentally we’re a small club with a small catchment area made up of predominantly local players that have played together for years.

“I think the fact that we are a close knit group just makes it that bit more special.”

But Cleare is expecting a big step up in standard.

“In terms of difficulty this league will provide huge challenges,” said Cleare.

“In all honesty we have steamrolled the previous three years, winning 68-70 games and now that mindset will have to change from being favourites every week to being underdogs or certainly being in a 50-50 game.

“Any win we do achieve will have to be fully earned.”

But Cleare will not be focusing on results.

“With no relegation this season our targets are purely performance based as opposed to results driven,” said Cleare.

“Of course we don’t want to finish in that bottom three or four and we want to finish as high as possible.

“But our goal is purely driven on being difficult to play against, executing our game plan and entertaining the supporters.”