Fylde RFC will draw on the experience of Alex Loney and Greg Nicholls as the team prepare for a “dogfight” at Wharfedale tomorrow in National League One.
Loney plays at hooker, while Nicholls will operate at scrum-half as Fylde cross the Pennines to take on a side battling to stave off relegation.
Wharfedale recently lost seven matches in succession, putting their 20-year tenure in National League One in jeopardy.
But they ended that sequence, and demonstrated their ability and spirit, with a narrow win at Hull Ionians last Saturday, when Fylde’s home encounter with Ampthill was rained off.
Fylde player-coach Paul Arnold has given Loney the nod because he believes his proven know-how will be invaluable at Wharfedale.
Arnold said: “It is tough on Tom Burtonwood, who has been playing well, but Loney is our most experienced scrummager and the most consistent lineout thrower.
“He has not been available this season because of school duties, but he is able to play on Saturday and the experience he has of playing 300 Championship matches will be vital in what looks sure to be a dogfight.
“Wharfedale regard this as one of their most important matches of the season and we have to be ready for it. It is a War of the Roses and all that.”
There is similar thinking behind the selection of Nicholls for the number nine jersey, ahead of Ryan De La Harpe, who is named on the replacements’ bench.
Fylde player-coach Arnold added: “We have gone for Greg at scrum-half for his ability to control the tempo of the game and get the forwards going.
“We have Ryan on the bench, who can give us an injection of pace when we need him.
“That is one of the reasons why I have sacrificed myself and not picked myself as one of the replacements.”
Indeed, Nicholls’ all-round contribution to the build-up and the match itself could prove pivotal.
Nicholls took charge of one of the Fylde training sessions this week.
Arnold explained: “I took a step back on Tuesday and let Greg take the session.
“We want players to make their own decisions on the field, and we let Greg take charge of things and it went really well and was a good session.
“Players can get used to hearing the same voice, so that’s why we changed things, though I always have the final say on anything.”
Arnold will watch from the sidelines at Wharfedale, so misses out on his 150th Fylde appearance.
However, there are personal milestones for both Chris Johnson and Jordan Dorrington.
Fly-half Johnson notches up 100 Fylde appearances, while for full-back Dorrington it is number 50.
Arnold’s absence means he gives a long-standing back problem more time to recuperate.
Prop forward Simon Griffiths is still an absentee with an ankle injury, but he should be able to return for Fylde’s opening match of 2016, at home to Hartpury College on January 2.
Nick Gray, who will lock the scrum with Gareth Rawlings, will be unavailable for the Hartpury fixture.
Fylde (v Wharfedale, kick-off 2pm) Dorrington; Bingham, Briers, S Rawlings, Brennand; Johnson, Nicholls; Birchall, Loney, Lewis, Gray, G Rawlings, Goodman, Stewart, Fairbrother. Replacements: Lavelle, Mills., Moon, De La Harpe, Spragg
n Fleetwood RU are due to head into Cumbria tomorrow for their final North Lancs / Cumbria match of 2015 at Upper Eden.