By David Wilkinson
There was a deafening roar over Priory Park on Saturday afternoon; sadly it was not that of the Macclesfield Rugby Club faithful, but that of a single Red Arrow that stopped-off to do a sequence of ‘death roles’ and dives over the Macclesfield skies, entertaining the locals enjoying an early evening aperitif in their gardens.
There was never a pre-season game planned for Saturday due to the somewhat delayed marriage of Sam Moss to his lovely partner Steph; inevitably involving much of the first team squad. However Head Coach Andy Appleyard had put in place a game against sixth tier side Bowden at their ground, on Thursday evening. It was a great disappointment to all to hear on Wednesday, that Bowden were crying-off, as they could not raise a side. This must be worrying for Bowden, the week before the start of a new season, and very annoying for the coaching team and players at Macclesfield. However, there was little that could be done at this late stage to find another fixture. Thursday night’s session looked to be a long and intense one to make up for the lack of a game. In the two sessions remaining Andy Appleyard will be revisiting the key areas that they have been working on and making sure that the players are all in sync with their roles. Analyst, Matt Coleridge, reported that they are working hard to bed-in a new attacking structure with the players, whilst working on the set-piece (the lineout in particular miss-firing against Hull). The stats against Hull were a mixed bag: 2 executions in 12 red-zone visits, with 2 tries scored; the defence was very good, with Hull making only 2 breaks; we also only gave away 8 penalties, which is within the target range.
We do hope for a deafening roar or two at Priory Park soon, the first being at 2.55 pm on Saturday, when the boys run-out for the first match in the new campaign for promotion back to National 2 rugby. Our first opposition is Burnage RFC, promoted from North 1 West, after the cessation of rugby in March 2020. Burnage, were, and I presume still are, coached by Dave Muckalt, previously a player/coach at Macclesfield in 2006. One can only hazard a guess to the kind of form Burnage will be in, moving up into the North Premier; as their website and social media has been silent since the first Lockdown, we will wait to see.
If Macclesfield are up there, which is certainly the plan, where will the challenges come from? Look no further than the two demoted sides, Otley and Preston Grasshoppers. Both will be desperate to get straight back into National 2/level 4. Both clubs are very well known to Macclesfield and are likely to provide the first big tests with Otley at home in the third game of the new season, followed by Hoppers away at Lightfoot Green. Otley will be pleased with their pre-season, gaining a narrow win over Hull Ionians, after bolstering their squad with several new boys. Elsewhere there will be a likely challenge from Billingham. Last time out, they led the league, until a catastrophic loss of form, which seemed to time with their Captain and talisman Peter Evans being injured.
What of Macclesfield? Andy Appleyard will be commenting on the Club’s website prior to Saturday’s match, as he puts the boys through two more training sessions, and making his final selection. That said, the ink may already be dry on a number of positions. Previous and current form, would suggest that selection is relatively easy for several of the starting positions. From the warm-up games played two have stamped their authority on the games; Josh Redfern is looking in peak fitness and playing with a renewed freedom at number eight, which he must be relishing. He is likely to be a real handful for back row defences and I would expect him to be crossing the whitewash on a frequent basis throughout the season.
Another name at the top of my list would be Harry Harding; again looking in great condition. The Covid lockdown months have not been wasted on young Harry, he has emerged a very powerful young man, putting in massive shifts in the two Sheffield Tigers games and showing his raw power, barging over for a try against Hull – in my opinion locked in at Lock.
I have not seen much of Jordon Simpson, since we last played in this league, but his form in the Blues and Whites trial showed that he has lost nothing. Simo’s strength and pace from 7 will hopefully also worry a lot of North Premier teams; he could combine well with Josh Redfern breaking the gain-line.
With Polish International, Sam Stelmaszek injured, the number 9 spot is up for grabs. Whilst there’s competition for the scrum half shirt, I personally would also be penning in young Alex Davies. He showed against Hull that he can comfortably play at this level; at 18 his talents and rugby nous belies his tender years, and those worried about size should cast an eye towards Bristol’s Harry Randall. Alex has good pace, a huge engine and is very quick and accurate at recycling the ball – he should fit the high-tempo game Macclesfield wish to play. Brother Will Davies would have been on my list, but his current recovery from a shoulder injury and return to university may put him on another team’s list.
In the backline, I have three other names as starters along with Captain Tom Morton, leaving two spots up for grabs. What of the new boys, they have all now shown what they can do, in match situations, and in my opinion some will feature from the off. It is great to see the much-travelled, wily Chris Roddy back at the Club; he could form a powerful second row unit with Harry Harding. Also back at the Club are Brendan Berry and Josh Degroot; Brendan should also be a firm starter and his versatility should pay dividends during the season. Josh Degroot first ran out for Macclesfield, some years ago, at Heywood Road against Sale, with a fine performance in the back row; with Geoff Wappett then using him much as an impact player off the bench, he should feature either as a second or back row forward. Although I have only seen him once, Aaron Wilman, who has joined the Club from Taunton looks to be a powerful prop along with Simeon Meek – both should feature.
The squad looks to be in a very competitive situation and as players recover from injury there should be a healthy fight for places. It all starts again on Saturday 4th September Macclesfield v Burnage, 3.00 pm kick-off; get there early for a pie and a pint!