Championship will be tough - Bedford skipper James Pritchard

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League is even stronger - Pritchard

Bedford Blues skipper James Pritchard believes the club may have missed their best chance to win the Championship.

They lost 30-27 on aggregate to London Welsh last season despite winning the away leg of their play-off semi-final.

"I thought last year was open to anyone - it was definitely our best chance since I've been with the club to have a crack at it," he told BBC Sport.

"This year, Newcastle are odds-on favourites. They've come down but been able to retain most of their squad."

The north-east club finished bottom of the Premiership last season and relegation was confirmed after London Welsh won an appeal against a decision to exclude them from the top flight.

Falcons now have Dean Richards in charge as director of rugby, who has already overseen a successful promotion campaign with Harlequins in 2006.

"It could be like Northampton, when they came down and sort of ran over teams.

"I know the league has got a lot stronger since then, but if you're betting against Newcastle, you're a game man," said 33-year-old Pritchard.

Bedford are not aiming for the Premiership because of the financial risks involved.

However, having finished as runners-up in the table in the last two seasons, they are not about to surrender their hard-won status in the game's second tier.

They have a strong squad thanks to their dual registration arrangement with Saracens and signings which include former Leicester back row Tom Armes and ex-Worcester lock Ben Gulliver.

"The task we set ourselves to finish top of the league is getting harder and harder every year, but it's something we pride ourselves on, that we want to work for," Pritchard added.

"I think with a few good additions to the squad this year, it's a realistic goal to finish in that top four again."

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