Aviva Premiership Rugby is more competitive than ever, according to Ally Hogg, but the Newcastle Falcons star says his side are aiming for more than just survival this term.
Falcons have finished 11th – just one place clear of relegation – for each of the past three seasons since gaining promotion from the Championship.
But this campaign has started promisingly, with two wins from four games including a first away league victory since October 2014.
And while back-rower Hogg admits it has been far from perfect, he claims Newcastle will only continue to get better.
“We’re relatively happy with our start in some senses but disappointed in others,” said Hogg, speaking at the launch of this year’s Aviva Community Fund alongside team-mates Michael Young and Chris Harris.
“Everyone is finding their feet a little bit – what teams are doing, analysing each other and there are things to work on week on week.
“Hopefully we’ll keep improving, get the results we deserve and move up the league.
“We just want to win as many games as possible and finish as high as we can this year. We’ve obviously not done so well in the last few years and have just tried to survive.
“We’ve got ambitions to try and get further up the table. We’re not expecting to go and win the league or anything but we just want to move up the table if possible.”
The Aviva Community Fund is a nationwide initiative that lends a helping hand to local communities by offering support and funding for local clubs, causes and projects.
It has already benefited over 320,000 people, through 431 winning projects across the UK, and this year, local grassroots sports clubs can apply or reapply for funding in a new, sport-specific category.
And Hogg knows how vital it is to ensure that rugby clubs up and down the country are in good health.
“It’s very important to get that funding into clubs because it’s the sort of thing that can help keep a club afloat,” he added.
“Investment in youth rugby allows more people to get experience of the sport and more people have an opportunity to give it a go and see if it’s something they want to take forward.
“I’ve got some great memories from my local club. My Dad took me down when I was young – he enjoyed it and thought that what he got out of it, I would as well.
“I made a lot of good, lifelong friends. I looked forward to the weekend, training on Saturday morning and then going away somewhere on a bus to play on Sunday or just staying at home.
“It was just about running about and getting muddy – it was fantastic.”
Falcons brought in a number of experienced heads over the summer, including the likes of Opeti Fonua, Vereniki Goneva and Dom Waldouck, and Hogg is convinced the current squad have them geared up for success.
“The new signings have definitely fitted in well – it’s a good group of boys and everyone is working hard for each other and for the team to perform well,” added Hogg.
“It’s not just the 23 out there every week, it’s the guys in the background working hard and pushing the guys in the 23 to play well.
“It’s a good squad and everyone is working towards the same goal.”
Premiership Rugby and the 12 Aviva Premiership Rugby Clubs are supporting the Aviva Community Fund, a nationwide initiative which offers funding of up to £25,000 to grassroots sports clubs and other community organisations close to your heart. Enter at aviva.co.uk/community-fund from September 13.