DMP Durham Sharks co-captain Lisa Cockburn sounds a bit flabbergasted when you remind her the last time her squad played in front of a home crowd was January 2020. 

That’s about to change. Sharks’ home opener against Saracens, last season’s regular-season table-toppers, will kick off at midday on September 11th, with the team first meeting Gloucester-Hartpury away on Saturday. 

Cockburn and her side were more than happy to put last season to bed, finishing with an abysmal 1-17 record. This year, she’s hoping pre-season bonding, hard work and a newly-minted boss will go a long way in the table-climbing effort. 

She said: “We’re the underdogs at the moment, and there’s been a lot of changes for us over the last year. 

“I think now things are settling down and falling into place. We’re hoping to just improve from what we did last year. 

“Having fans is going to be really nice! We’ve got a 25,000 seater stadium, it’s a great atmosphere to be in, and have the supporters back. 

“We’ve got some proper diehard fans that haven’t been able to come and watch us, and it will be really nice to hear them cheering us on and to have a buzz around the game. 

“It can get a bit eerie when there’s no one around.” 

The Premier 15s will once again be played over 18 rounds, culminating with play-offs (21 May 2022) and a title final (4 June 2022, venue TBC).  

With no promotion or relegation, there are no changes to the 10 teams within England’s top-flight of women’s domestic rugby, operating in a league format with home and away fixtures. 

As with last season, the top four teams will play their semi-final over one leg, hosted at the respective grounds of the first and second ranked team after the conclusion of the regular season. 

You can forgive Mark Luffman for having a few blank pages in his pre-season playbook—after all, news about his appointment as the new Sharks Performance Manager only broke on Tuesday. 

Luffman, who coached Sharks’ men’s 1st XV for two seasons between 2017 and 2020, left to join the England Women’s coaching setup but is looking forward to re-joining the Darlington club ahead of the new Premier 15s season. 

“It’s been busy, but busy’s good,” said the new boss with a chuckle. “The girls are fantastic, they’ve been really welcoming.  

“We’re really excited for the season to start, really excited to see how the players go and what they’ve been working on. 

“I’m obviously from the north and there’s a big rugby base in Yorkshire and the northeast and it’s a real hotbed of rugby.

“I’m passionate about my rugby, I know the area and there’s lots of people passionate about their rugby there, so I’m really trying to harness all that passion and direct it in a positive way.” 

The Allianz Premier 15s is the top-flight women’s domestic rugby union competition in England. For all the latest news from the Allianz Premier 15s, you can follow @Premier15s on Twitter and Instagram. You can also watch live action on throughout the 2021/22 campaign.