Jim Mallinder believes Saints have had a ‘cracking start’ to the Premiership season.
And he is now eager for them to see off Sale on tonight (Fri) and regain their place at the top of the table.
Saints - who welcome back Ben Foden, Dylan Hartley and George Pisi - can hit the summit should they win at the Salford City Stadium and Harlequins fail to beat Worcester on the same evening.
It would be Northampton’s seventh win in 10 league games at the start of this campaign, and Mallinder insists he is happy with how things have gone so far.
He said: “It’s been a cracking start for us. We knew it was going to be difficult over this period, particularly with international call-ups, and I think other sides have found that as well.
“When you take out some of your key players, it becomes a big leveller.
“There are some very good sides out there who don’t lose key players and those games are very competitive now.
“Friday’s game is significant in terms of we know they’re the bottom club, we know they’re desperate for a win and we know that a good win for us on Friday night would take us top of the league.
“We want to be up there, we want to be in that top four and that’s why it’s significant for us.”
Saints could be boosted by the return of full-back James Wilson in the coming weeks.
The Kiwi has missed the past eight games with a calf injury, but Mallinder says he is making good progress.
“He’s improving is James Wilson,” said the Saints boss.
“He is getting closer by the week.
“It was really disappointing for him that when he got his opportunity in the team, with Ben Foden away, his injury came.
“He’s coming back, he’s out of his boot and he’s doing a bit of running now so we’re hopeful he’ll be back soon.”