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Cambridgeshire Cats have a busy off-season ahead of BAFA National Leagues Premier Division South opener against London Blitz

The off-season is a traditionally a time where players and coaches are presented with the opportunity to spend some time away from the mental and physical demands of their chosen sport.

Yet ahead of their 2024 BAFA National Leagues Premier Division South opener at home against London Blitz on Sunday (14 April), those associated with the Cambridgeshire Cats have been afforded no such luxury.

Having been promoted in 2022, the previous campaign was one of consolidation for the Cats, who play their home fixtures on Coldham’s Common. And they achieved that feat with relative ease, eventually finishing fourth in a six-team division.

It has been a busy off-season for head coach Andy Whiteoak and his Cambridgeshire Cats players Picture: Dik Ng/Cambridgeshire Cats
It has been a busy off-season for head coach Andy Whiteoak and his Cambridgeshire Cats players Picture: Dik Ng/Cambridgeshire Cats

However, no sooner had the curtain came down on the 2023 season when head coach Andy Whiteoak started to plot what was to come next.

He said: “We did a lot of work to prepare for stronger opponents and it worked out well.

“We had some mixed results but we expected that to happen. It’s rare in this sport that a team comes up and shines straight away.

“We faced plenty of challenges, but the goal was always survival and we were happy to finish in fourth place.

“The main thing it provided was a base for us to continue kicking on this coming season.

“What normally happens in our sport is you get a nice long off-season to rest up and see the family, but that hasn’t happened for us.

“We’ve had too much work to do because if we want to continue at this level we need to improve.

“Things have been even more professional, we’ve recruited really well and we’re happy with the position we’ve got ourselves in.

“The coaches and players have put a lot of hard work and dedication into the process.”

With last year’s goal fulfilled, Whiteoak has now set his players a new challenge.

He added: “I’d like us to have a go at cracking that top three this year. To do that it will mean that we need to steal a couple more results from teams but we’re a lot better prepared this year and I think that makes it a realistic target.

“Everyone knows that Bristol Aztecs and London Warriors are the powerhouses in the division with great infrastructure and facilities, but hopefully we can be pushing for third place.”

One thing that Whiteoak should not lack for this season is options.

He and his coaching staff have been busy over recent weeks and months on the recruitment front, with the number of players now signed on standing at more than 80.

And there is one player in particular that Whiteoak is delighted to be able to field.

Whiteoak said: “We recruited well in terms of players and also in terms of coaches. We already had some fantastic coaches, but it felt like last season we needed even more.

“We made a particularly big effort with our offensive line. It’s always a challenge because big guys in this country that want to play sport, they play rugby – they’re the props.

“But we have got in Teddy Pope. He was with the Solent Thrashers and last year he ran in three touch downs against us.

“He’s a real difference maker and someone that I’m really looking forward to seeing what he can do in red.”

First up for Pope and his new team-mates is the visit of the Blitz this weekend.

And while one game will not define the Cats’ season, Whiteoak has conceded that getting off to a winning start would set his side up for a positive few months.

“It would be massive to get on the board so early in the season,” he said.

“London Blitz are a great team with a great system, so this game will give us the chance to see how much we’ve benefitted from the hard work we’ve been putting in. You never truly know how well it’s worked until you put it out there in a game.

“And if the result doesn’t go our way, then it will just go to show that we need to work even harder.”

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