ROCKS REVIEW: Strong league - but we’re out for another title bid

The Rocks are eyeing up next season’s league line-up and declaring: There’s no reason we can’t be title contenders again.

As the management get to work on keeping their squad together and bringing in new faces, the provisional list of teams who will be in their division has been released.

It includes three sides relegated from the Ryman premier: Maidstone, Croydon Athletic and Folkestone Invicta, any of whom could mount strong campaigns to go back up.

Also involved are Crawley Down and Hythe, who have gone up as champions of the Sussex and Kent Leagues.

Then there’s Whitehawk, who, like the Rocks, missed out in the play-offs. They are expected to splash out on another promotion bid as they move to the Withdean Stadium.

Nyewood Lane joint boss Jamie Howell said it would be a tough league but one in which the Rocks could prosper again.

“Maidstone will certainly be aiming to go straight back up and there are one or two other teams who you’d expect to be up among the leaders,” Howell said.

“The hardest thing for us will be trying to improve on the 96 points we got last season. Expectations will be high and we will have to deal with that.

“We ought to win a lot of games and we want to be challenging at the right end of the table – and there’s no reason we shouldn’t be.

“But if we don’t go straight to the top of the league and stay there, we certainly won’t panic. I’d expect there to be as many as six clubs breaking away at the top and if we’re one of those, I’ll be content.

“Of course we want to win the title and go up, and I believe we have a team who will, one season, do that.

“But we can’t let what happened last year affect us. It’s a new season and we just have to go out and give it our best shot.”

Things are quiet on the ins-and-outs front.

Winger Ben Johnson looks set to spend pre-season with League Two side Dagenham & Redbridge but has indicted he’d like to return to Nyewood Lane if things don’t work out.

And while there is interest from a number of clubs in 44-goal Jason Prior, the Rocks remain hopeful he will see out the final year of his contract.

Howell said: “Ben’s done well to get a foot in the door with Dagenham & Redbridge. He excelled last season and showed what ability he has.

“This is a good chance for him but we’ve told him he will be welcome back here if it doesn’t go to plan, and I think he might well take us up on that.

“He can certainly play at a higher level but he enjoyed his football immensely last season. Our club and our style of football suits him.

“We’ll have to wait and see with Jason and it could be that other players are sought after as the summer goes on.

“I’d imagine we will lose one or two but we aim to keep the mainstays of the team.

“We also have three or four targets in terms of bringing new players in. But what’s nice is we have a lot less rebuilding to do than at this time last year, when we had five or six positions we needed to find people to fill.”

The Rocks’ pre-season training is likely to begin on July 4, with the first friendly pencilled in for July 19.