Steamboat Springs Steamboat Rugby Club captain Michael Hurley chooses his words carefully.
He doesn't want to look or sound too excited.
"We would be disappointed if we couldn't step our results up again this year," he said Friday in his thick Australian accent.
The club opens the 2006 season today in Vail. The winner will have an early lead in the Mountain League standings.
Steamboat and Vail tied in last year's final league standings, but Vail won the Rocky Mountain Cup based on points.
"We want to start the year as we finished it off last year -- by beating Vail," Hurley said.
Steamboat hasn't beaten Vail's team in Vail in nearly 20 years.
"Vail will be really good at home," Hurley said.
But the Steamboat Rugby Club has spent the past four years improving steadily. The addition of Aspen, perennially one of the country's top rugby clubs, to the Mountain League gives Steamboat another opponent to measure itself against.
"We have had three hard weeks of training," Hurley said. "As a club, we've been training for six weeks."
But some of Steamboat's players just arrived in town.
To become more competitive, Steamboat has turned its eyes toward Texas, recruiting players who otherwise wouldn't play rugby during the summer.
The Austin Blacks out of Austin, Texas, play January through May.
Steamboat's season lasts from June through September.
"Steamboat has formed an alliance with the Austin Blacks," Hurley said. "We had a couple players go down there and play, and we have a couple coming up here."
Hurley's kindest words, however, are reserved for the new local boys, who are using their football backgrounds on the rugby pitch.
Chris Baumann, Charlie Pappas and Zack Forcum, former Steamboat Springs High School football players, are now regular participants at rugby training.
"They are all athletes," Hurley said. "Athletes typically can adapt in most contact sport situations. You just have to learn the rule changes."
In rugby, players don't wear pads, and there is no forward passing. But the three players possess size and speed, which can't be taught.
They will "reinforce our strength," Hurley said.
Anywhere between 20 and 35 players -- a mix of rugby veterans and rookies -- have turned out for training this year. The Steamboat Rugby Club is always looking for players.
"No experience is necessary," Hurley said. "Just a willingness to learn and inflict punishment on the opposition."
Rugby Club training is from 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays at Whistler Field. Training then moves to Sunpie's Bistro, Hurley added.
-- To reach Melinda Mawdsley, call 871-4208 or e-mail email@example.com