JON MCLAUGHLIN has warned Rangers to expect a 'much more competitive' challenge from Celtic as the champions look to defend their Premiership crown this term.

Steven Gerrard's side eased to a historic 55th flag last season as they secured an unbeaten league campaign and finished 25-points clear of their Old Firm rivals.

Celtic are now under the guidance of new boss Ange Postecoglou after seeing their dreams of clinching ten-in-a-row unravel during a disastrous season on and off the park.

Rangers will begin their title defence against Livingston next weekend and McLaughlin is determined to use their title glory as the springboard for further success at Ibrox.

"That has got to be the aim," McLaughlin told RangersTV. "As I said, with Champions League football a real possibility now, it is a massive carrot for the whole squad to be concentrating on at the moment leading into the end of pre-season.

"Long term, this squad are hungry now for more titles and for cup success as well. That was one of the disappointments of last season, feeling that there was more that we could have done and there were other trophies that were within our grasp.

"There is always something to improve on, something to look forward to and this season we are hoping for another big season. It is going to need all the hard work.

"It wasn’t easy last year. As much as some people on the outside might think it looked easy, that was as much to do with Celtic maybe as our hard work.

"We know it is going to be a much more difficult season, a much more competitive season this year and we have to be fully ready for that and that fight for the entire year."

Rangers would wrap up the title in March before captain James Tavernier finally got his hands on the silverware in the aftermath of the win over Aberdeen that rounded off a dominant campaign.

HeraldScotland: Steven Gerrard

But there have been few chances to reflect on the enormity of the achievement as attentions turn to the new term and the next chance to add to their Premiership medals.

McLaughlin said: "Not a huge amount of time. I think it is going to take a bit of time to settle in and to set in.

"It was one of those seasons that players will have to reflect on in years to come just how much they have achieved and how big a deal this was and what we managed to do as a group.

"It certainly was a special season and the way football is now, it is straight into internationals and now straight back into a pre-season where we are preparing for hopefully an even bigger season with the potential of Champions League and going for another title.

"It is not giving you a lot of time to stop and enjoy it and think about it. It will hopefully be something you can look back on with a lot of pride in the years to come."

Rangers continue their preparations for the new campaign with friendly fixtures against Brighton and Real Madrid this weekend as Gerrard's side count down to the big kick-off.

Ibrox hosted 2000 fans for the draw with Arsenal on Saturday and more supporters will now get the chance to see the champions in action once again in the coming days.

McLaughlin said: "It was great to have that and instantly it feels different. You get that reaction from the crowd, good and bad.

"They are invested in the game, it brings that emotion, tension and energy straight away. There were only a couple of thousand but they were really vocal.

"It gives you that taste. I played in front of a couple of full houses when they were all against you so it will be nice to have them all back in and have that crowd behind you again roaring you on, which is what we all want."

Rangers have also faced Partick Thistle and Tranmere Rovers since their return to action as attentions turn to the Champions League qualifier against Malmo or HJK Helsinki and their Premiership opener at home to Livingston.

McLaughlin was given extra time off this summer following his participation at the European Championships with Scotland as Steve Clarke’s side fell short and missed out on a place in the knock-out rounds.

But the 31-year-old insists the extended break won’t interrupt his preparations for the new campaign as he seeks to push Allan McGregor for a starting spot once again this term.

McLaughlin said: “I think it is a benefit. I find the internationals mean that you don’t have too much time away from football so getting up to speed isn’t really a problem.

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“It is more getting the rest time in between. You obviously lose quite a lot of that so just mentally, trying to have a bit of down time, trying to recharge and reset.

“But in terms of actually coming back in, it does make it easier and you get to miss out on a little bit of the hard running that the lads have to put in in the first couple of weeks.

“That is always nice. It has not been too bad getting up to speed.”