READING Men could hardly have asked for a tougher start to the new England Hockey League season which gets underway this Saturday, writes Dave Wright.

The Blues host Surbiton (6.30pm), last season's Premier Division winners and whose team is packed with international stars.

They had eight in the GB squad which defeated New Zealand 2-0 in the Pro-League match in June, although in other fixtures their representation was down to five or six.

Reading did have two internationals themselves last season, but they left in the summer with England defender Liam Sanford and Scotland forward Lee Morton both tempted away by newly-promoted Old Georgians, a club boasting a big budget.

Matt Richards has also joined them at the Addlestone-based club, where they will link up with former Reading players Dan Shingles, Tom Carson, Ed Carson and William Carter-Keall.

This has led had to quite a lot of recruiting at Sonning Lane and new players include Ethan Chapman, previously with Sheffield Hallam, Andrew Oxburgh from Sevenoaks, Adam Pescod from Loughborough Students and Jamie Rawlings, who has switched from Fareham.

Scotland junior international Sam Hill, a member of the Marlborough College team, has also joined college hockey coach and fellow Scot Craig Falconer at Sonning Lane, while the club have re-registered Ross Clunie and Louis Gittens.

In pre-season games, Blues defeated Oxford Hawks 2-1 before losing 5-2 to East Grinstead.

They will be hoping to do better against Surbiton than they did last season, losing 5-1 at home and 6-2 at Sudgen Road.

Reading Ladies host Oxford University in a friendly this Saturday as they prepare for their opening Division One South fixture against Slough on September 28. They defeated Gloucester 2-1 in a friendly last week.