WHICHEVER way it is calculated, the equation is simple – the National League Two North title is now Fylde’s to lose as they go into tomorrow’s home clash with Nuneaton with a 12-point lead over their nearest pursuers.
It is a formula not lost on Fylde’s most recent arrival to the first team, maths teacher Steve Collins, who made a belated debut for the club in December after taking time to recover from a career-threatening injury.
It is the highlight of any player’s career to turn out at Twickenham in a final, as Collins did for Lancashire in the County Championship decider last spring, but it turned into a nightmare as he broke his leg and dislocated his ankle.
It could have ended Collins’ Fylde career before it even started – he was a Rochdale player at the time – but after a painstaking period of recovery, Collins has added his ball-handling and running skills to Fylde’s promotion push.
He has created a favourable impression – after an indifferent start.
Collins said: “Just to be playing again is a bonus for me – to be playing at this level and doing so well, I could not ask for any better.
“It is not 100 per cent yet obviously, but it is getting there with games.”
The Fylde fly-half recalled: “I made a tackle – a big lad came over the top of me and my foot just got stuck in the ground and my knee buckled, and it just went straightaway.
“It could have been one of those injuries where if the operation had not gone well, I could have been sat out on the sidelines for a long time.
“Thankfully the operation went well.
“I did a lot of work on it in the gym, but took it easy and instead of coming back too early gave it the right amount of time, and I think it’s going okay.”
It was not long before Collins was becoming impatient to get back into the fray to make up for lost time – and do his bit for the Fylde cause at a time when their challenge was showing signs of faltering.
He said: “The first few games of the season I didn’t mind, because I knew I was a long way off – it was just good to watch the boys, but when it got to the time when I was getting closer to full fitness, I was itching to get back playing.
“We went through a difficult time with a few bad results as well, so that was very frustrating.
“But we had a cold winter and and a few postponements, so that gave me time so I could get back playing.”
Collins made his debut in January, coming on in the latter stages of the 62-19 win over Morley – but he made the kind of immediate impact that was not in the script.
Though he scored a try, he gave away two touchdowns, both brought about by stray passes.
Collins said: “It was a baptism of fire! I think I have thrown two interceptions in the past two or three years, so two in one match was just one of those days – you just have to forget about it and get on with it.”
Collins says the fact the team are now 12 points ahead does not cause extra demands – the opposite could be the case.
He insisted: “If anything it gives us a bit less pressure – we now have quite a bit of daylight between us and the rest.
“It doesn’t mean to say that we can take our foot off the gas, but if we have a slip-up it’s not the end of the world.”
Collins was in the side that beat Loughborough Students, a win that gave him satisfaction as he spent three seasons with them before linking up with Rochdale, where he holds down a teaching post.
“I did feel bad about leaving Rochdale, but because I wasn’t playing in the first half of the season, it made it easier to leave them – after the injury, it was good to make a fresh start.”
Collins suffered a dead leg against Loughborough, and looks like missing tomorrow’s clash with Nuneaton, as Fylde are reluctant to risk him.
Coach Mark Nelson is happy with Collins’ contribution and is also convinced even better things are in store.
“First, it is good to see Steve back playing. He is getting fitter and stronger. Steve plays close to the gain-line and understands the way we are trying to play.”
Jason Robinson switches to full-back for the match with Nuneaton, with Richard Kenyon moving to fly-half and Sam Russell drafted in on the wing.
Lock Nick King looks like missing out with a calf injury, while Mark Stephenson requires a test on a shoulder injury.
Fylde: Robinson; Russell, Briers, Waywell, Brennand; Kenyon, Wallwork; Livesey, Holmes, Altham, Arnold, Wells, Ferguson, Sutherland/Stephenson, Beaumont. Replacements: Roddam, Lavelle, Thoma/Sutherland, Aikman, Ward.