CROSS KEYS V PONTYPRIDD (Tomorrow, KO 2.30pm)
CROSS Keys start the Premiership campaign with a bang when they welcome champions Pontypridd to Pandy Park tomorrow.
The last time Keys played a competitive game it was against Ponty at the Millen-nium Stadium in the Swalec Cup final.
The Gwent side came out on top on that memorable afternoon to lift the first piece of silverware in their 127-year history.
Pontypridd recovered from that disappointment to secure the title and are the standard bearers for the top flight of club rugby.
They head east with an imposing squad that has been bolstered by the return of old favourites Rhys Shellard and Dai Flanagan, but Keys head coach Greg Woods welcomes the challenge.
“It’s a really tough game first up but that’s perfect to get us out of our summer slumber,” he said.
“Games against Ponty are always among the toughest of the season and I expect it to be as feisty as ever.
“It’s a great tester for us and we will know exactly where we stand at 4.45pm tomorrow.
“But they won’t be overly excited about having us first up at Pandy Park. It’ll be a hell of a battle.”
Keys are aiming to build on a fantastic 2011/12 campaign that saw them reach the final of the British and Irish Cup (losing at Munster A) as well as lifting the Swalec Cup.
They had been challenging for a spot in the Premiership playoffs before their knockout progress took priority and they eventually finished sixth for the second successive season.
“The element of surprise may be gone but that’s because we achieved our aim of another top half finish and winning a cup,” said Woods.
“The goals haven’t changed this season – we want to be the best team in Gwent and we want to be involved in the big games in March and April.
“We need to perform well in the opening months to put ourselves in a position to do that.”
Keys will hand debuts to centre Luke Ford, tighthead prop Anthony Lott, lock Ollie Hodges and number eight Adam Powell.