Gentle optimism over Hull
Hull FC coach Peter Gentle is confident his new-look team can challenge the big guns in Super League XVIII, starting with tonight's trip to reigning champions Leeds Rhinos.
The high-profile capture of former Leeds favourite Gareth Ellis, along with half a dozen other major signings, has sent hopes in west Hull soaring and Gentle knows an improvement on the sixth-placed finish in his first year at the KC Stadium is the minimum goal.
"Obviously we'd like an improvement on last season," Gentle said.
"I think last season was probably a fair indication of where we're at. We've got higher aspirations than that. We've a pretty fair squad I believe.
"We've had seven signings. We're a lot quicker, we're bigger and we're definitely a lot smarter.
"The players I've had from last year know each other a lot better but the players we've brought in are smart players. So we're expecting to be there or thereabouts."
Joe Arundel, Daniel Holdsworth, Jason Crookes, Shannon McDonnell, Ben Galea and Paul Johnson will all make their Hull debuts against the Rhinos but Gentle accepts that most eyes will be focused on Ellis as he makes his return to Super League after a successful four-year stint in Australia.
Ellis turned down the chance to rejoin Leeds and was rewarded with the Hull captaincy by a grateful Gentle.
"He's a quality player and a quality person," the coach said of the seasoned England forward.
"He's just a great character to have around the place. He's slotted in great. He's naturally just one of the leaders."
Leeds, who will have new signings Joel Moon, Mitch Achurch and Joe Vickery on debut, are fancied to make a winning start but Gentle is unfazed at the prospects of facing the champions first up.
"We're not too concerned who we play," he said. "Early in the season you have to look after your own backyard.
"We've to play Leeds, Bradford, Saints and Warrington in the first month so it's a tough start but we've got to worry about ourselves.
"They might start to worry about us at some stage."