Melton RFC will hope the return of a national cup winner will add spark to the back line as they kick off the new Midlands One East season on Saturday.
The First XV are looking to build on last season’s above-par sixth-place finish in their debut campaign in Midlands One and open at home to Northampton Old Scouts on Saturday (kick-off 3pm).
Ollie Haddon, who plays at fly-half or centre, was the only new face to join the squad over the summer, and brings with him National League experience with Bristol side Dings Crusaders.
But the club was further strengthened by the return from university of Jack White and Ollie Circuit.
White is the latest member of the 2008 national cup-winning Colts side to return to the fold, a team which was led by current First XV captain Marcus Badham.
Head coach Gareth Collins said: “Those two players are quite big plusses for us as they both backs which was an area we were looking to strengthen.
“It is not easy to pick up players at this level; we are still an amateur side so it’s hard to offer the incentives, but we are in a slightly better position than we were 12 months ago.
“Last year our top target was to stay up and we massively surpassed that.
“So bearing in mind what we did last year, we would like to improve our league position and push for the top four, but we are realistic in our ambitions as a club and want first and foremost to consolidate.”
Collins has also promoted young prop Charlie Loveday into the first team squad after impressing in county colours last term.
But Melton will be without the services of their player-coach as well as Carl Prior for the entire season after both had major knee surgery, and have also lost David ‘Biscuit’ Osborne to retirement.
“Biscuit was an ever-present in the squad for the last three years so will be a big loss,” Collins said. “But Charlie Loveday will make the step up into the first team.
“My injury is frustrating, but it makes my life easier in some senses because there’ll be no debate over whether I can or can’t play, I can just concentrate on coaching.
“It has paid off that the squads have worked together since I’ve been here.
“Harvey Green and Harry Wood are now very solid first team regulars, and we had six other Colts playing in an inter-club trial match the other week so hopefully we will see a few more of them playing in the second team or perhaps even the first team this year.”
Melton capped pre-season with a 25-19 warm-up win at home to Midlands One West outfit Burton-on-Trent on Saturday.
There was more encouraging news on the adjoining pitch where the Colts beat last season’s league champions Lutterworth 22-19.
And if Melton are to match or better last season’s impressive debut they will be looking for another strong showing at their Burton Road fortress.
Ten of their 13 wins last season came on home turf where a two-and-half-year unbeaten record was finally ended by champions Newbold in January.
But Collins believes the lessons learnt from last season’s step-up are as important as the results and Melton’s place in the final standings.
“We learnt a lot last season about the consistency levels of the opposition and by going away to new grounds,” he added.
“There will be no surprises this year, or at least fewer surprises, and we’ll be in a better position to be more consistent.
“We felt last year that as well as we did, we could perhaps have finished a little higher.”