DANNY BROWN is hoping the new National One season will enable Darlington Mowden Park to take another major step towards establishing themselves as a force to be reckoned with in the Championship.

Mowden kick off the new campaign with a home game against Loughborough Students tomorrow afternoon, having finished last season in tenth position.

That was a respectable enough return, but sights are being set higher as Mowden prepare for what will be their fourth season in the third tier of the English game.

Now settled and established in their Northern Echo Arena surrounds, the Darlington club are as ambitious as ever, and while promotion to the Championship will always be a big ask when a number of National One clubs have cemented tie-ups with teams in the Aviva Premiership, it remains the overriding objective.

“We want to keep moving forward, and we had a team meeting a few weeks ago where we asked the boys what their aspirations were for the new season,” said Brown, Mowden’s director of rugby. “We have to be honest about where we are as a club, and we don’t have the same finances as some of the other clubs in the league.

“But we all agreed that this year, we want to finish in the top six if we can. And then beyond that, we want to be pushing the sides that are going to be challenging for the title, and proving we can compete at that level.

“One of the big differences this year is that no one came down from the division above with London Welsh going pear-shaped, so there are going to be a lot of teams who think they have a realistic chance of finishing right up there.

“We have to be part of that group, and that will mean we’re taking another step closer to the long-term ambition, which is establishing ourselves in the Championship. If we’re being totally honest, it’s maybe still a year too early for us to get to that stage. But it’s definitely where we want to get to eventually.”

In previous summers, Mowden have found themselves embarking on an extensive rebuilding programme, with up to half of the squad having left at the end of the previous campaign.

That has not been the case this time around, with the majority of last season’s squad having been re-signed at an early stage of pre-season.

That has created some welcome stability, and helped foster a spirit and togetherness that could be a major factor in the next nine months.

“That’s been the big difference this summer,” said Brown. “We haven’t had the upheaval we’ve had in other summers, and that’s been nice. We haven’t had to do anything like the level of recruitment we’ve had to do in some other years, and that’s meant we haven’t had to turn everything upside down.

“The upshot is that we maybe have a slightly smaller squad than we would ideally have wanted, but it’s an extremely tight-knit group and it’s already a totally different vibe than we had last year.”

As well as focusing on the first-team squad, Mowden officials have also spent the summer basking in the pride of having four of their women players in the England squad that suffered a narrow defeat to New Zealand in the World Cup final.

Katy McLean, Abbie Scott and Tamara Taylor all started last weekend’s final, and should be involved in a number of Darlington Mowden Park Sharks matches this season as the team form part of the new-look Women’s Premiership.

In an attempt to raise the profile of the women’s team, Mowden have scheduled six double-headers in the first half of the season, with the men’s and women’s matches taking place on the same day.

“That’s going to be a big thing for us,” said Brown. “When the RFU created this new competition, we said straight away that we wanted to be part of it. There was competition from up the road at Newcastle, so we’re proud we’ve been chosen to represent the North-East.

“It’ll be great to see some of the England players taking part, but it’s also a great opportunity for the girls who are here with us week in, week out, keeping the club going.”

And as they prepare to take the field against Loughborough this afternoon, what can supporters expect from Mowden’s men’s team this season?

“I’d like to think we play some pretty open rugby, and try to throw the ball around,” said Brown. “We’re very fortunate to have the best stadium in the league, with a lot of people watching and a pretty big pitch. Put all those factors together, and I think you have to throw the ball around and look to attack.

“It’s different when you go away from home, and there will be times in the away games where it’s a bit of a battle and the result is the only thing that counts. But here at the Arena, we’ll be looking to entertain. That might not mean an easy afternoon for me on the sidelines, but it should make for some exciting rugby to watch.”

Darlington Mowden Park (vs Loughborough Students, 2pm): Connon, Mackenzie, Frankland, Auld, McTurk, Seals, Dudman; Appleby, Wood, Darkintis, Craggs, Brady, Fisher, Heaton, Hodgson.