Head coach Warren Spragg admits the healthy competition in his Fylde RFC squad has made selection decisions tough for tomorrow’s first game of the National Two North season at newly-promoted Scunthorpe – but that’s just how he wants it.
READ MORE: Fylde warm-up in style with 50-point victory over Hull Ionians
Fylde’s stable squad brought continuity to a successful pre-season boosted by 50-point friendly wins over Sandbach and Hull Ionians.
The latter raised eyebrows as the Humberside club won Fylde’s league last season and completed the double over them. Spragg warned against reading too much into the result and told The Gazette: “The two clubs were at a different stage of their preparation. It was their first run-out and they have had a disrupted pre-season but it was very productive for us.
“We’ve ramped things up in training in the last couple of weeks, including the joint-session with Rossendale, and we have near enough a fully-fit squad.”
An intense pre-season was not without its casualties: scrum-half Cam Crampton picked up a knee injury which may force him to sit out the first few weeks, while forwards Adam Joyner and Oli Parkinson were concussed in the Sandbach game and no risks will be taken if they are less than fully recovered.
And Spragg still has plenty of options, adding: “I have a lot of tough decisions to make and there are some very good players who will not be in the team this weekend.
“We probably have 25 or 26 who would hope to be involved and those who get a chance have a big responsibility to show they merit it.”
New arrivals include back-rower Hal Chapman and returning centre Scott Rawlings.
Spragg said: “Hal is a very powerful ball-carrier who we have played against at Sedgley Park. He is disruptive in open play and is a big slab of meat who always gives 100 per cent. It often takes two or three men to stop him.
“And with Scott’s strength and offloading ability, he will add real physicality to a skilful side and will give us more threats.
“We also have Dave Fairbrother fit again. Fairy played in both warm-up games but we tried not to overplay him. He wears his heart on his sleeve but it’s our responsibility to manage him to full fitness and get him playing week in, week out.”
If most of the Fylde team is familiar, tomorrow’s opponents are not, though Spragg is happy to face the Lincolnshire club first up.
He said: “Scunthorpe were surprising winners of the Midland Premier Division but deserve credit for building on a strong community foundation with lots of local players.
“If your first match is away, then your last game will be at home against the same club, which is a positive. I can’t remember the last time we ended at home, so I’ll happily travel anywhere first day.”
Scunthorpe are one of five newcomers to the league of 16 due to promotion and relegation, making the competition a difficult one to predict.
Spragg added: “It is a big turnover. Loughborough are a very athletic side who romped this division previously because of their speed. Caldy have also come down from National One and are extremely physical and streetwise.
“Hull have invested heavily and will challenge, Chester look strong and Preston Grasshoppers have recruited. It’s a great league.”
But Spragg will be focussing on Fylde as he enters the club’s centenary season with pride and optimism.
“We are certainly ambitious. We have a good, stable squad, with players improving all the time, so there is no reason to be cautious.
“I want to win each week but it’s down to the players to grab hold of each game and let their talent do the talking.
“I’m privileged and grateful to be head coach of this club in its centenary season and the players are excited.
“We have a new centenary kit, which we will wear for the first home game against Hoppers next week. It means a lot to a proud clubman like Adam Lewis to captain the side this season and he has a good group who will all hope to do the club proud.”