Northampton Wanderers’ status as Premiership Rugby A League champions means nothing ahead of Monday night’s semi-final against Harlequins, according to coach Mark Hopley.
The Wanderers are looking to reach their third successive final when they host Quins at Franklin’s Gardens tonight, kick-off 7.30pm, after an impressive campaign that saw them romp to the top of the Northern Conference.
They lifted the trophy last year after defeating Gloucester United 36-15 on their own patch and they will be many people’s favourites to progress once more after winning nine of their ten games this season.
They’ll be up against a Harlequins side that have defied the huge amount of injuries at the club this year to reach this stage, but Hopley is taking nothing for granted.
“It’s a different group to last year,” he said.
“We’ve got a few players who were in and around it and we’ve got a very good team spirit and a good culture, but again it’s a different group and it’s a different game.
“It’s a one-off and we just need to focus on ourselves, getting our basics right and hopefully the score will look after itself.”
Northampton have been the most prolific scorers in the A League this year with 57 tries, and they have the joint-best defence along with Quins, with both having conceded 20 at the other end.
On his side’s performances, Hopley added: “The [75-26] win against Wasps was pleasing, but there are still a lot of areas from that game that need improving.
“I don’t think you can single any game out, really, because we’re now into knock-out rugby and the only game that matters is the one tonight.”
Hopley has been able to blend youth and experience into his side this season, with players such as Stephen Myler, Ken Pisi and Christian Day all chipping in over the course of the campaign.
But the most pleasing thing for the Saints academy coach is that the Wandies continue to provide a pathway to the first team, with the likes of James Grayson and Ehren Painter given opportunities in recent weeks.
He said: “It’s up to those guys to take their opportunity – we saw Ehren get his chance at Leicester a couple of weeks ago, which was brilliant for him.
“James has been in and out and has been around the England Under-20s set-up as well.
“He’s very competitive and very eager to show what he can do.
“Fraser Dingwall has been very good for us as well – he’s a very good prospect and has a mature head on young shoulders.
“We’ve got a lot of good young lads – Alex Moon is immensely physical and works really hard, but we’ve got a lot of other players who work hard for the team.”
Tickets for tonight’s match against Harlequins are available to purchase on the gate for £5 (adults) and £2 (juniors), while entry for Saints Season Ticket Holders is FREE.