SWINDON Wildcats player-coach Aaron Nell believes his side could not have asked for a more exciting start to the new season when they kick off their competitive fixtures with a double-header against Hull Pirates in the Autumn Trophy this weekend.

The Cats start the defence of a competition they won last season in flying form, having completed a perfect pre-season programme with four wins from as many games.

Swindon now host the Pirates at the Link Centre on Saturday before making the return trip to Humberside 24 hours later, facing the first two of six Autumn Trophy matches at the start of the campaign.

Although delighted to have already built up a run of good form, Nell says the results of the Cats’ challenge matches over the past fortnight count for nothing as he expects two tough battles to unfold against an attack-minded Hull side this weekend.

“It’s always nice to win in pre-season, but we won’t remember how we did in those games when we look back at the end of the season,” said Nell.

“We are looking forward to playing competitive games again and I know the boys can’t wait to get going.

“There were lots of positive things to take out of pre-season, and you’d rather win games than lose, but the serious stuff starts now. Hopefully we can take the momentum we have built up into this weekend.

“Hull are a good team. I think their weakness was at goal-tending last season, and they’ve worked on that by signing an import for this season, and I think their top players are some of the best across the two NIHL divisions.

“With the way both teams play – we both want to play attacking hockey – it should be two great games. I think it should be one of the best weekends of the year.”

After further Autumn Trophy double-headers against Sheffield Steeldogs and Telford Tigers later this month, Swindon begin their league fixtures in NIHL South One on October 6 when they host Invicta Dynamos.

Having won two cups last season – the Cats also lifted the NIHL Cup – Swindon are intent on being amongst the front-runners in the league, and Nell knows the importance of setting a high standard as early as possible.

“Starting the season well is something we have talked about,” said Nell.

“I think we lost the league title last season in the first few months because we dropped points that we shouldn’t have.

“We want to qualify for the Autumn Trophy semi-finals as early as we can and then once the league games start, go into it all guns blazing.”

Youngster Eliot Randall misses out this weekend due to an injury suffered in pre-season, while fellow forward Toms Rutkis is unavailable and will instead ice for Elite League club Cardiff Devils.