Thurrock captain Rich Halle says he is relishing the new Isthmian Premier League season and is confident of surprising a few teams along the way.

The Fleet skipper is preparing for his 17th season of non-league football, and can count Canvey Island, Aveley, Concord Rangers and Billericay Town among his former clubs.

But, having helped Thurrock to promotion in his first season at the club, he says the division’s newcomers are not there to make up the numbers - ahead of Saturday’s tough-looking opener against Margate.

“It is important to start well, especially as a newly promoted side,” said Halle, 35.

“We had the best defensive record in the league last season and we don’t want that to change just because we have won promotion.

“We feel confident and think we can surprise a few people in the next nine months.

“Billericay are favourites but Margate are a good side. I have played against their manager (Steve Watt) when he was at Maidstone and I know what sort of a team he will have built.

“They got relegated last year but are well resourced and we know how tough it will be.”

School-teacher Halle recently returned from a two-week break, but he says he has kept himself in peak condition.

And he says the same goes for his team-mates, with Thurrock securing some good results in the off-season, including a 3-0 win over Bishop’s Stortford.

“I have kept myself in good shape and I need to work even harder as I am not as young as some of the other guys,” laughed Halle.

“Pre-season has gone well for us. It has been enjoyable but tough and it has been great to get guys in like Dennis Oli and Lewwis Spence and they have fitted in well. It helps that some of the boys knew them before as well.

“But we have all looked after ourselves and we all look sharp.”

Thurrock face a tricky start to life back in the Isthmian Premier Division, following a four-year exodus.

Mark Stimson’s team have matches against Worthing, Leiston and Halle’s former club Billericay to look forward to in the next four weeks.

But Halle is not daunted at the prospect, and says a positive start could make all the difference.

“We are tough to break down and we will give it our all,” said the central defender.

“The first month is a big one for us and we face some big-hitters.

“We want to show what we can do and, if we get some good early results, you never know where it will take you.

“We are not there to make up the numbers and we want to play at the highest level possible.

“It is a tough league this year and there are some very strong teams in the division. I am looking forward to testing myself.”