Rugby: Melton RFC braced for Midlands One debut
The First XV begin life in Midlands East One on Saturday when they host Leighton Buzzard in the season opener at Burton Road (kick-off 3pm).
Melton have come a long way in a short space of time after back-to-back league championships and promotions.
But confidence is high within the camp, particularly from their breathtaking county cup final win over National League side Hinckley in May.
Head coach Gareth Collins said: “Our first objective is survival and then to finish as high as we can.
“We are under no illusions it is going to be difficult, but as a group of players we are targeting a top half finish and we feel that is achievable.”
It will be one of the few divisions skipper Marcus Badham hasn’t experienced in his career, having skipped it to play National League Three rugby with Syston.
He said: “It’s getting more structured and a bit more professional now.
“Teams will be more well drilled and have stronger squads in depth and will be wise to this league.
“With beating Hinckley and coming up twice we know we won’t be taken lightly by anyone.
“I don’t think we’ll be seen as underdogs this year, but our guys won’t be phased at all either.”
The club have drafted in former Melton Colt Kieran Stone at tight head prop, recruited from Leicester Forest East, who has played at National League level at South Leicester.
Back-rower Kieran Bugby also makes his over way from Leicester Forest to Burton Road, as does Josh Palmer who can play scrum-half or as a utility back.
But internal developments will perhaps make as big an impact as external recruitment.
The squad will be bolstered by a strong group of Colts who leave that age group for senior ranks.
“Kieran (Stone) will make a big difference in terms of experience and so much strength to a key position,” Collins added.
“We are probably in the strongest position going into the season since I’ve been at the club.
“Players are coming through the Colts into senior rugby so things are evolving very nicely.
“Harry was a stand-out last year and our other big success story was Harvey Green at the end of the season and starting in the cup final. I expect him to be a key player for us this year.”
Badham also stressed the importance of forming a tight-knit unit, a factor he has tried to develop since returning to the club and overseeing the two promotion campaigns.
“In pre-season we have gelled loads more as a side,” he said. “We have been together for two years and are developing more as a group.
“We want to become an established side at this level. We feel it’s the level the club needs to be at for the next season or so.”
It has been a quiet pre-season in terms of games with a 62-5 win over West Bridgford and Saturday’s weather-affected match with Oadby Wyggs, but quantity and quality of training has encouraged captain and coach alike.
Strength and conditioning coach Adam Chambers has overseen the close season fitness regime at his Melton-based Primal Fitness gym.
“The reason our players are ready for the season is because of the hard work Adam has put in,” said Collins.
“After four weeks we were back out there starting pre-season; sometimes it’s very difficult to get the players to rest.
“It’s better we don’t know anything about the new league in some ways. We can prepare how we want without worrying about others and hopefully we can surprise a few people.
“We will take it four games at a time and keep re-assessing and setting new targets.”