Will Broks to take charge of the first team for the new campaign

A SPEEDY return to Midlands One is still the goal for Banbury Bulls this season despite the loss of coach Martin Hobley and No 8 Rob Cockerton.

Skipper Will Brooks has taken over the responsibility for pre-season training along with stand-off Simon Purnell.

Former Harlequins prop Hobley initially indicated he would spearhead the promotion push this year, after relegation last season.

But having hung up his boots at the end of the last campaign, the desire to remain simply as a coach has waned.

"It is a seven-days-a-week commitment and I decided that that would be impossible," said Hobley.

"I have three children between three and 18 and I would like to spend more time with the family."

Hobley will not be severing his links entirely and has offered to watch matches and give advice from the touchline, and has also indicated a willingness to take the occasional training session.

"He has been a major asset and will be sorely missed but hopefully not too much," said Brooks.

The 30-year-old Bulls skipper remains optimistic for the coming season even though off-field problems have made it difficult to approach new players.

"I feel we need strengthening with four or five players in key positions," said Brooks. "But even if they are not forthcoming I still believe we will make a strong challenge for the championship."

The Bulls go into the unknown of Midlands East Two and kick off their league campaign against Wellingborough at Bodicote Park on September 7 followed by Ampthill (Sept 14 home) and South Leicester (Sept 21 away).

Before that they face Penryn at home on August 30 in the Powergen Cup.

The loss of Cockerton, who has moved house and joined Wolverhampton as player-coach, is a blow to the club's playing resources, which could be further weakened if prop Henk Hattingh goes through with a move to Oxford Harlequins.

"We did not do ourselves justice last season," insisted Brooks.

"We lost several games by just one score and our confidence suffered.

"Our plan for this season is to go back to basics to try and get some wins under our belts. With wins comes confidence.

"The games will not be as fast and will be less physically demanding."

Brooks is concentrating on the defensive and ball winning aspects of the game, while Purnell is looking after the ball handling skills a role he did last season.

The Bulls should find out this week who is buying Bodicote Park.

"There is no doubt the lower sides suffered as a result of all the upheaval but it did not affect the first team. If anything it pulled us closer together," added Brooks.

Hobley's parting shot was a plea to former players, coaches and committee men to return to the club.

"There are a few people doing a lot of jobs. if ten or 12 people could one small job it would help the the club enormously," said Hobley, who is looking forward to the chance of a holiday between September and April something he has never been able to do before.