HEWORTH ARLC head into the unknown on Saturday as the inaugural division three season of an expanded National Conference League kicks off.

The Villagers, with new boss Tim Rumford at the helm, begin at Featherstone Lions, who have gone down with them from division two, but, as vice-chairman Ken Sykes explained, even they are an unknown quantity this year.

It leaves Sykes unsure of what would constitute a good season for the Elmpark Way club, although getting wins in the bag – the club haven’t tasted league victory since October 2010 – is a priority.

“We don’t really know how this season will go,” he said. “A lot of these teams are unknown to us. We start with Featherstone Lions who beat (division two side) Shaw Cross in a friendly so we expect them to be good. But their team changed last season when a lot of lads went to Sharlston for the winter season. Have they got them back?

“The new teams coming into the league will be enthusiastic but have they got the players? What are Peterlee and Coventry going to be like? We would expect Pilkington to be strong but some of the other teams I don’t know much about. It’s a suck-it-and-see situation.”

Sykes hopes encouraging signs in pre-season – including a friendly win over Gateshead Storm and a decent show in 34-10 defeat to division two side Normanton last Saturday – will stand Heworth in good stead. The return to the club of BARLA Great Britain Lions international Leigh Rientoul from York Acorn, added to a smattering of other incomers, is also a big boost.

“Things are looking better,” said Sykes. “We’ve had some good pre-season training with 30-plus players at every session, and a couple of good workouts. Normanton have recruited well – I think they’ll go well – and we competed pretty well.

“We’ve got Leigh back, and he’s a very good player. We’ve also got players like Gareth Watson, Paul Thompson and Sean Brough, who have only been playing on and off. They make a difference.”

New coach Rumford is also up for the challenge, as outlined by Sykes: “Tim is ambitious – he wants to do well. He’s pretty shrewd.

“If we can get one or two wins, we might be able to have a reasonable season. We obviously haven’t won for some time so we’ve got be realistic. Tim will have his own views and his own aims but, to me, winning as many as we lose would be a successful season.

“We’re quite optimistic. I’m looking forward to Saturday which I haven’t really done for a while.”