Whitehaven coach Carl Forster believes that over half of League 1 sides will fancy a realistic tilt at promotion in 2018 – and he hopes his side will be right in the mix again as they kick off his second season in charge on Sunday.
Haven, who came desperately close to promotion last season before losing the play-off final to Barrow, start their campaign at home to recently-relegated Oldham, in a battle of two sides expected to compete at the right end of the third-tier this year.
And Forster, who remains the youngest coach in the game at just 25, told TotalRL he thinks this year’s League 1 is too tight to call.
He said: “Last year, Toronto ran away with it, and rightly so.
“But this year, there are four, five, maybe even six teams who will be genuinely scrapping it out for promotion. You could probably even widen it out to eight if you wanted – there are going to be some good teams disappointed with where they finish this time around.”
Forster is also excited to see how his new-look squad handle a tricky start. Gone are the likes of experienced names such as Glenn Riley and Paul Crook – but the Haven coach admits they have taken a fresh approach with their recruitment which should provide long-term stability.
He said: “We’ve not replaced the experience of players like Paul, Glenn and Ste Roper, but what we have done is replaced them with real quality lads like Brad Bilsborough. The recruitment is different this year; it’s geared towards a long-term approach for Whitehaven, and that’s something I’m really excited about.”
And after a difficult off-season – with his numbers desperately low on occasions – Forster believes Haven head into 2018 with confidence after a strong pre-season campaign.
“It’s been a long, frustrating off-season but as soon as the friendlies come around, you’ve got something you can work towards. We can’t wait to get going,” he said.
“The friendlies have given us some belief. We pushed Swinton close and then the derby came around – though it’s never a derby up here! – was great. They’ve made big noises over the off-season, and we did really well to beat them.
“It’s a tough start; Oldham have kept the majority of their squad and are one of the favourites for the league for a reason. For us, we’re delighted it’s in Whitehaven, and from a coach’s perspective, there’s a good challenge for me because there are going to be some good players missing out this weekend.”