Arguably the two most evenly-matched sides in the Greene King IPA Championship, Jersey Reds against Doncaster Knights represents a mouth-watering way to kick off the league season this weekend.
The two sides will run out tomorrow (Saturday) to kick off 2017/18 at the Reds' home ground, which has been re-named 'Stade Santander International' to coincide with an extended sponsorship agreement with the Island club's lead sponsor.
With identical points totals in last season's final Championship rankings, the Reds were denied a play-off spot having one fewer win than their Yorkshire rivals. The Knights ensured their fourth-place finish with a 24-20 win over the Reds in April, gaining a measure of revenge for the 2012/13 season, when a 16-13 defeat at Jersey's hands on the penultimate weekend condemned them to relegation.
Across 10 games in the Championship and B&I Cup since 2012, there has never been more than a seven-point margin between the sides, with four wins apiece, two matches drawn and an overall points tally of 218-216 in the Reds' favour.
Including their replacements, the home side will potentially be giving league debuts to 11 of the 20 new players who've arrived on the Island over the summer. This includes new Captain Scott van Breda at full-back, Tom Pincus at wing and former Ulster centre Mark Best in the backs; while in the pack the new recruits who'll line up are second row Jerry Sexton plus flankers Matt Rogerson and Conor Joyce.
Five new faces are on the bench, including front row duo Jared Saunders and Roy Godfrey, who will share Vice-Captaincy duties for 2017/18, flanker Seb Nagle-Taylor and utility back Jason Worrall. Making his first appearance of any kind in a Jersey shirt will be newly-arrived Fijian international prop Leeroy Atalifo, while lock Dave McKern has recovered from the injury that kept him out of pre-season action and earns a bench spot.
The Reds' pre-season featured three matches as Head Coach Harvey Biljon sought to integrate his summer signings: a trip to Brittany saw a 38-14 defeat to French Pro D2 side RC Vannes, then National 1 opponents Coventry were defeated 26-17 on home turf, and finally the Reds took on a near full-strength Harlequins side at The Stoop, losing 47-21 in a match that featured 10 tries.
After the match against Doncaster, the Reds will travel to newly-promoted Hartpury on Saturday September 9th, and will then welcome Cornish Pirates to Stade Santander International on Friday September 15th (k-o 7.45pm).
This weekend also sees the first league game for the club's second team, Jersey Reds Athletic, who travel to Ampthill for a Zoo Shield Division 1 encounter.
/*Stop press*/ An injury to winger Ross Adair has forced the Ulsterman out of the squad, with his place taken by Jason Worrall. Ellis Abrahams comes onto the bench - the 12th of the summer signings to be named in the squad.
Jersey Reds squad v Doncaster Knights (H) - Greene King IPA Championship, Round 1/22, Saturday September 2nd, Stade Santander International; k-o 2.30pm
Scott van Breda (capt)
Roy Godfrey, Jared Saunders, Leeroy Atalifo, Dave McKern, Seb Nagle-Taylor; Joel Dudley, Ellis Abrahams
Why not come a chillout in the supporters marquee before the game, A fully stocked bar and food is available, seated and standing tables, on a first come first served basis and a great place to meet the Reds supporters.