Get off to a good start – that’s the only target head coach Warren Spragg has set for his Fylde RFC players before the first tackle is made in their first match back in National Two North tomorrow.
After seven seasons in the league above, Fylde are back in a regional competition and welcome Otley to the Woodlands for the 3pm opener.
Fylde have successfully retained the vast majority of last season’s players, though the flipside is that self-belief could be bruised by a demoralising 2017-18 campaign (Fylde won only three games in National One and are yet to taste a league victory in 2018) and rival clubs will no doubt raise their game at the scent of a prize scalp.
The squad has been reinforced and Fylde are buoyed by pre-season displays against Kirkby Lonsdale and Ampthill.
The club’s new Lancashire Under-20s prop Elliot Horner is expected to start, with former Sandbach scrum-half Cameron Crampton replacing the departed Greg Nicholls. Back rower Ben O’Hara has also caught Spragg’s eye and staked a claim for a place.
Spragg told The Gazette: “We have stability going into the season and I think it is very helpful that the squad is settled. The bulk of the guys are the same as last year and a few new guys have come in with a great attitude.”
Of the new boys, the head coach said: “Elliot is primarily a loose head but he is a good young prop who can play on both sides of the scrum, like Adam Lewis. That is very important, especially as you can really only accommodate one prop on the bench.
“Cam Crampton has a lot of potential. His attitude is really good and he wants to be the best player he can be.
“Ben is the surprise package. I’ve known him from his younger days at Myerschough College but he has gained good experience in Ireland and Australia. He is a tough player, who started against Ampthill last weekend and we are pleased with him.
“Also there is Tom Grimes, who feels like a new signing. He only came back from New Zealand for the last two weeks of pre-season and he has added a spark to the outside backs. The other backs like to play alongside him because he is a really good finisher. “
But Spragg is well aware that fixtures against Fylde are ones opponents will have ringed on their calendars.
He added: “Pre-season has been good but we know that Otley and the other clubs will be wanting to welcome us into this league by getting one over on us.
“It is flattering to our club that other teams are excited about playing us. Clubs want to beat us and it’s up to us to meet that challenge head on.”
But Spragg isn’t just preparing to face pumped-up players, he knows there will be quality ones as well.
“There are good teams in this competition, like Tynedale and Macclesfield. Preston will be good too, and Otley have strengthened and brought some good backs in.
“The standard is going to be tough but we will be dangerous and will expect to score tries. But we will have to be a better at a lot of things than we were last season.”
That season may be a bad memory but it’s one Fylde can’t simply erase, which is one reason why Spragg is wary of setting targets.
He explained: “All we’ve talked about is getting off to a good start because a lot of the lads here lost a lot of games last season. Pre-season has been good and last week we had 30 who could have played against Ampthill.
“The challenge to those lads was to get in the 20 for this weekend and they performed well. The target for those who are selected is to play well enough to keep the shirt. We have to be the best version of ourselves we can be and see where that takes us.”