After the Christmas & New Year break, Fylde get back to National League action when they make the relatively short journey to Cheshire to Macclesfield RFC’s well organised Priory Park ground. They will make the trip with the confidence of an unbeaten run of seven games behind them and 3rd place in the division. But there will be no hint of complacency when they take on the Blues, currently in 15th place.
Macclesfield had a very difficult start to the season, with seven defeats in their first eight games anchoring them to the bottom of the division. This included a 48-8 loss to Fylde at the Woodlands in September. Their form, especially at Priory Park, has improved, with excellent recent victories against Hinckley (33-21) and Stourbridge (27-22). Although they have yet to win an away game, their brave performance on 8th December at leaders Hull Ionians was almost the upset of the season. Macc were leading by 6-16 in the 82nd minute but two injury time Ionians tries conjured a 18-16 win.
Macclesfield have proved the ultimate yo-yo National League club. They rose to the highest level in their history, Nat One, in 2010-11, a season ahead of Fylde. Their first two campaigns were very successful, finishing in 4th then 6th in Nat One. The following season was a struggle and they finished 14th on the last day of the season and were unluckily relegated. Back in N2N in 2013-14 they had an outstanding season and finished champions.
Promotion to Nat One was a mixed blessing and they had a very disappointing 2014-15 season finishing bottom of the table and relegation. Once again they repeated their dominating form in N2N and they finished the 2015-16 season top of the table. It proved déjà vu as they again finished in 16th place in N1 and relegation called. Last season they achieved stability and earned a comfortable mid-table position of 8th in N2N.
In parallel with Macc’s fate in the National Leagues, their status amongst the four main Cheshire clubs has also changed. From the leader’s position in 2016, they have now been overtaken by Sale FC and Caldy, both now in National One, and Chester who are currently in 2nd place in N2N.
Meetings between Fylde and Macclesfield have always been competitive. It was not until December 2003 that the clubs met at 1st XV level for the first time. They have now fought out 23 league games, with Fylde shading it with 13 victories to Macc’s 10. Many of the games in National One from 2011 onwards have been high scoring affairs, with 134 points being shared in the two games in 2011-12. With the Blues currently 14 points away from the safety of 13th place in N2N, they will be fighting for their lives and will pose fierce competition to Fylde.
Rather like Fylde at the end of the 2016-17 season at the Woodlands when they lost a stream of experienced players, Macclesfield have suffered something similar this season. Highly respected talents such as Dave Marwick, Ryan Parkinson and Lewis Barker have either retired or moved on. Fylde lock Olli Parkinson moved to the Woodlands from Priory Park a year earlier. Injuries have also undermined their campaign to date.
Under new Head Coach Marshall Gadd, a crop of very promising young players have replaced the experienced departees and these are expected to be the foundation of the squad in the coming years. Their skipper this season is former Sale Sharks/Jets & England U’20s fly-half Tom Morton who made nine 1st XV appearances for Fylde on dual registration in 2015-16. He also carries goal kicking responsibilities. A more recent recruit has been the talented Lancashire County scrum-half Sam Stelmaszek who moved from Sale FC in November.
Retained experience includes hooker Sam Moss, prop Tom Mantell, back five players Tom Poole and Frankie Barker, and wing Myles Hall. Another major new recruit is another former Sale Sharks back who has played in the claret and gold at the Woodlands a decade ago, centre Jordan Davies. He made seven Fylde 1st team appearances back in the 2008-9 season. He went on to full time professional contracts with Sale Sharks, Rotherham Titans and Jersey. A new back rower is Dafydd Rees (ex-Penallta RFC, Manchester Metropolitan University, Sale Jets, Wales Students Rugby League)
Leading scorer is Tom Morton with 89 points. The try scorers list is headed by winger Sam Parry and centre Sam Broster with five each.
Fylde make three changes in their starting line-up from that which began the game against ‘Hoppers.
Henry Hadfield returns on the wing after injury, Ben Gregory is at hooker and Sam Dugdale at flanker. Prop Bevan Rodd is named amongst the replacements.
The full squad is:
15 Tom Carleton; 14 Henry Hadfield, 13 Chris Briers, 12 Connor Wilkinson, 11 Tom Grimes; 10 Greg Smith, 9 Cameron Crampton; 1 Elliot Horner, 2 Ben Gregory, 3 Adam Lewis (c), 4 Olli Parkinson, 5 Matt Garrod, 6 Ben Vernon, 7 Sam Dugdale, 8 Jacob Conner.
16 Bevan Rodd, 17 Alex Loney, 18 Nick Ashcroft, 19 Ben O’Ryan, 20 Ralph Dowds...