The Ainslie Park outfit were the league’s inaugural winners back in 2013 but have since played second fiddle to rivals Edinburgh City who earned promotion to SPFL League 2 in May with a 2-1 aggregate victory over East Stirling.
Samuel expects the Shire, along with big-spending East Kilbride, to be their main challengers for the title this season but believes a host of other clubs will throw their name into the hat as the season progresses.
Spartans host Edinburgh University in their first home league clash of the season tomorrow, buoyed by Tuesday’s excellent 3-0 win at senior league outfit Berwick Rangers in the first round of the Irn-Bru Challenge Cup.
“I think this season is going to be so strong. Dalbeattie have made really good signings, Gretna will be stronger this year, Stirling will only improve once they get some of their first-team players in so there’s real depth; there will be no easy games,” Samuel explained.
“I genuinely believe seven or eight sides will be more than thinking they can win the title come next May.
“Our desire and aspirations to win promotion is as strong as ever. City doing it last season hasn’t increased our aim to do what they’ve just done. We’re on our own journey and have our own project.
“We want to do it as quickly as possible as we have everything in place off the park. But I’m really happy for Gary (Jardine City manager), I see him as a friend and I have a lot of respect for him. In general terms, it’s let everybody see that winning promotion is achievable.”
Samuel’s men have been fast out the traps registering a 3-0 victory at Stirling University last Friday night in the league’s opener before replicating that scoreline at Shiefield Park just four days later.
“I think the performance level took everybody by surprise because it has come so early on in the season,” Samuel said of his players’ exploits over Berwick. “The pressure was all on them so it was a bit of a freebie for us to be honest. The pitch was in fantastic condition, the game plan worked really well and the guys finished off the chances so it couldn’t have gone any better.
“We’ve set ourselves a standard that we know is going to be hard to match week in week out but what they’ve shown it is there.
“I’m realistic enough to know that my team isn’t going to play at its optimum level every match. We’re working with human beings and not robots so it’s about trying to find that consistency.”
Edinburgh University, meanwhile, make their league bow this season having been idle last weekend. The Uni’s final pre-season friendly was a 1-0 defeat by East of Scotland League champions Leith Athletic ten days ago.
Elsewhere, newcomers Civil Service Strollers will look for an immediate response when they travel to Raydale Park to meet hosts Gretna 2008.
Alex Cunningham’s men were left embarrassed by their 5-0 defeat by Hawick Royal Albert last Saturday with the manager revealing he felt some members in his squad were overawed by the occasion.
Whitehill Welfare are also in action down in the Borders as they take on current league leaders Hawick at Albert Park.
Welfare were beaten 3-0 by East Kilbride in an entertaining clash at Ferguson Park but will be hoping for a more favourable outcome this time round.
After last weekend’s somewhat surprising 3-0 triumph over Garry O’Connor’s Selkirk at Yarrow Park, Preston Athletic are up against BSC Glasgow at the Pennypit tomorrow afternoon.
• SPARTANS have been drawn away to League One side Stranraer in the second round of the Irn-Bru Challenge Cup. The match is due to played on August 16/17.