- Green and Whites finished second in the RFU Championship
- Face Bedford in semi-final first leg on May 4
Photo: Steve Galloway
Joe Cobden and Finlay Barnham are colleagues, housemates, and best friends. They share a home, the same month of birth, a history of England international youth honours and even the same season-ending knee injury.
Most importantly, though, they share an ambition to play Premiership rugby with Nottingham.
The Green & Whites have booked their spot in the RFU Championship semi-finals after ending the regular season second only to Newcastle Falcons, who have won all but one of their 22 league games.
It’s the club’s best finish in the league since its formation in 2009, but things may get even better for the Meadow Lane outfit.
With the first of their play-off semi-finals against Bedford taking place this Saturday, Nottingham are potentially just four matches away from securing promotion to the top tier, a prospect that hasn’t gone unnoticed by Cobden and Barnham.
“It’s a great achievement for any club in this league to reach this stage of the competition,” said Cobden, a 21-year-old centre who has crossed the whitewash five times this season.
“It’s a great chance as a team, and individually, to impress and show what we can do on a big stage. You get to play in front of big crowds and for the opportunity to reach the Premiership, which is where every player wants to be.”
Photo: RFU Archive / Alison Bowden
Highly-rated scrum half Barnham, who joined Nottingham in the 2010/11 season, is already familiar with top-flight rugby, having sampled it briefly during a short loan spell at London Irish in late 2012.
He believes that there are similarities between the structure at the Exiles and the one introduced by head coach Martin Haag at Meadow Lane.
However, the 22-year-old admits that the team isn’t looking too far ahead, with Bedford standing in their way of a spot in the Championship final.
“It would be a fantastic achievement considering the size of the squad currently, but as a group we are keeping our feet on the ground,” he said. “There are a few very tough games before the end result of Premiership rugby can be reached.”
While potential final opponents Leeds Carnegie and, in particular, Newcastle have a wealth of top-flight experience, Nottingham have never played in rugby’s top tier.
The Green and Whites were viewed as outsiders for promotion at the start of the season, but Cobden and his teammates could be richly rewarded for daring to dream.
“I don’t think many people would have seen us as having a good chance of gaining promotion at the beginning of the year but now it is looking possible. It would be great for the club both on and off the field,” he said.
“I know the boys dream of getting to play on the biggest stages against the likes of Saracens, Leicester and Harlequins, just to name a few."
Despite their impressive performances this season, Nottingham will wear the underdog tag again in the play-offs, with Newcastle overwhelming favourites.
“I think they are beatable,” claimed former England under-18 international Cobden.
“We ran them close at our place not long ago and I believe Bedford and London Scottish have taken them all the way to the finishing line at Kingston Park.
“We have the team to do it and if it comes down to a final between us, we will have to be extremely clinical and on top form as they are a great team, which they have shown this season. But we have to get past Bedford first, and you can't underestimate what a challenge that will be."
Photo: RFU Archive / Steve Galloway
And having reached this stage, he insists there is no sense of pessimism, but instead a feeling of determination that the Green and Whites can cap off a fine season.
“Our goal, set at the beginning of last year, was to secure a top-four place. We have achieved this with a game to go, but as a group I doubt we are just going to sit back now we have achieved our aim.”
Whether their promotion bid is successful or not, youngster Cobden, who recently penned an extension with the club until 2014, believes Nottingham have made progress this year and put themselves in a position to secure Premiership status in the future.
He said: “It’s really exciting. It's great to be able to play with and learn from the players we have in our team. Having just signed for two more years at the club it's great to see us going in the right direction.
“The coaching and the environment has been brilliant this year and only puts the club in good stead for the future, whether that is playing in this league or who knows, potentially even the Premiership.”
2012-13 RFU Championship semi-finals
Bedford Blues vs Nottingham Rugby, Saturday, May 4, KO 3pm, Streamed live via @RFUChampsionhip
Leeds Carnegie vs Newcastle Falcons, Monday, May 6, KO 3.15pm, Live on Sky Sports HD
Nottingham Rugby vs Bedford Blues, Friday, May 10, KO 8pm, Streamed live via @RFUChampionship
Newcastle Falcons vs Leeds Carnegie, Sunday, May 12, KO 1.15pm, Live on Sky Sports HD
2012-13 RFU Championship Final
Thursday, May 23, KO TBC
Wednesday, May 29, KO TBC