Rugby League: Beware, there's a Storm brewing . . .
Leicester Storm will be taking a "massive step forward" when they compete in the inaugural Conference League South, which kicks off in April.
Storm will be members of a six-team division, which also features St Albans Centurions, Bristol Sonics, Sheffield Hallam Eagles, Northampton Demons and Nottingham Outlaws.
It is just the challenge they are looking for, and chairman Ty Watson cannot wait to get started.
"It is all very positive," he said. "We have some very exciting plans for the future, particularly as part of the proposed sports village at New College, in New Parks, which we hope we can develop into a rugby league facility.
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"This season we will be taking a massive step forward and we're already in talks about becoming a Championship team in three years time."
Firstly, however, they will be tested to the full in Conference League South.
"There will be no easy games for us, which is what we need to develop the players," said Watson, who played Super League in Australia for Western Reds.
"They don't get better by having easy games, but now they will be tested to the limit week in, week out.
"Northampton beat us in the Midland Premier Grand Final last season, Bristol won it the year before and St Albans have won the Southern Premier title for the last two years.
"But, if we are to have aspirations of becoming a Championship side, we have to win this competition, whether it is this season or the next."
The six sides will play each other three times with a 'magic' round staged at a neutral venue as part of the 15-week regular season.
After a top-four play-off, the season will draw to a close with the Grand Final on Sunday, September 14.
Storm began preparations last weekend and Watson said: "The players will be having the best pre-season possible. We've retained most of last year's squad and have added a couple of reserve-grade players from Sheffield Eagles.
"We also have a new coach in Dean Thomas. He's a level-three coach and, for the last five years, has been the head of performance at Sheffield, who won the Championship last season.
"Dean will be aiming to nurture the talent that is already here – we had 18 players on scholarship programmes last season – with the aim of us becoming a Championship side."
David Gent, the RFL's director of participation, is also excited about the new competition.
"The first-ever Conference League South is going to be an historic season," he said. "As a tier-three league, it is a vital part of the community-game structure and, in the coming years, the plan is for it to expand and grow.
"I am confident that the league will develop as the flagship competition for the midlands and the south."
Fixtures for Conference League South will be announced shortly.