LONG-SERVING Swindon Wildcats defender Stevie Whitfield is expecting a much more competitive nature to NIHL South One in the new season.

Basingstoke Bison, Peterborough Phantoms, Bracknell Bees and the Cats all dropped into a reformed NIHL at the start of last season following the disbanding of the English Premier League.

The quality of those sides was evident as Basingstoke and Peterborough finished well clear at the top of the league standings tied on 56 points, with Swindon the only team to get within 19 points of them as they finished eight points back in third.

With all sides having now got to grips with their new competition and opposition, D-man Whitfield is predicting the league to be much more tightly fought this time around.

“I think the league looks more evenly spread this year,” said Whitfield, who made his senior Swindon debut back in the 2008-09 season.

“London Raiders have improved a lot, Streatham will be stronger, and those teams also have the benefit of knowing what we were like as we were an unknown for then last year.

“I am expecting it to be more competitive rather than a two-tier competition. There are lots of tough teams and there are no easy games.”

A switch in league has had its benefits for the Cats as they won two pieces on silverware last season in the NIHL Cup and Autumn Trophy.

However, Whitfield reckons that success is down to the mentality of the Swindon players rather than the standard of competition, and hopes Aaron Nell’s troops can continue to fight for honours in the new campaign.

“The league re-structure has turned us into a more dominant team, but I think our players have developed and we have brought in new players that have really helped us go to the next level and start to win things,” said 27-year-old Whitfield.

“When we had pressure games in the cup last season, we always performed. We will be looking to replicate that this season and hopefully do it in the league as well.

“There’s pressure this year – we’re coming in with an expectation to win.

“Last season, we felt that if we played well, we could win something. This season, we are almost expected to win something.

“It is a different pressure and hopefully we are going to thrive under it.”