Kells are pre-season favourites to pick up their third-successive NCL title this year but, if they do, it will be a third different league crown for the club since 2013 writes Oliver Roby.
The Whitehaven-based club have earned successive promotions from the NCL’s fourth tier, Division Three, up to the Premier Division, a remarkable rise through the ranks since joining from the Cumberland League ahead of the 2013 season.
“We’ve had a really successful period recently,” says Head Coach Peter Smith, who has overseen all three title triumphs while picking up the Division Two Coach of the Year award in 2014 and the Division One equivalent last year.
He explains: “We won a lot in the Cumberland League and used to clean up most years. It was a great competition but we felt like we’d become stale.”
Smith, a former assistant coach with Whitehaven, believes the local community’s love of Rugby League has helped see them through the transition to the summer league.
“It’s been an interesting time for us,” he said.
“Going from playing local games, to travelling anywhere from Coventry to Peterlee has been a big change, but everyone has stuck with us.
“All the players are on board and we’ve got a great band of supporters who follow us all over the country.”
However, looking ahead, Smith is relishing the prospect of facing major local clashes against Wath Brow Hornets and Egremont Rangers.
“Getting into the top division, where we’ll play some massive derbies against Wath Brow and Egremont, is just reward for all out volunteers’ efforts over the past few years,” he said.
“They’re only five minutes down the road and the locals are really proud that their area has three sides in the Premier Division.”
An eight-mile stretch of road joins the two clubs with Kells and Smith ‘can’t wait’ for the fixtures to arrive.
“We’re really looking forward those games – they will be huge for the club.
“Our treasurer will love it! We’ll get plenty of custom behind the bar and probably get bigger crowds than Whitehaven get in the Championship.
“It’s a tight area so there’s always plenty of interest in the games.”
In terms of his side’s title prospects, Smith is aware of the expectation which has been heaped upon his newly-promoted men, but has stopped short of setting any major goals.
“We’re installed as favourites to win the league apparently, but we’ll just go about our business as we always do – I won’t be making any rash claims.
“As long as we just keep enjoying ourselves, like we have done for the past few years, I’ll be a very happy coach.”