Tommy Marples, Sheffield RUFC’s tireless loosehead prop, is aiming to drive his side to league title success this season - as he prepares to make his 300th appearance for the club away at Alnwick tomorrow.
Marples, aged 34 and playing in his 17th season with Sheffield, will become only the tenth player in the club’s history to reach the magic 300 number of appearances. He made his debut for the first team in 1998 at the age of 18, after progressing through the junior section.
The vice-captain, who has never won a league title during his time with the club, is relishing his special moment - and is confident that the Sheffield side can continue their impressive run of form, which sees them top the North One East division on 64 points.
“It’s an honour to be part of the club’s record books,” said Marples, who has started 256 games for the club in the prop position.
“And I’ve been aided by the fact that I haven’t picked up any serious injuries along the way. Which is a miracle, really!
“I started my career here, and I’ll finish it here.
“I want to thank all the players I’ve played with over the years, and the club and its supporters. It would make my career if we could win the title.
“I’ve had so many special moments with the club but this season I really think there is something special about how we are playing and we have gelled really well as a team.”
Club chairman Andy Langdale added: “I have watched Tommy progress right through the club and he has always been an outstanding player to have on and off the pitch.
“This season he has really helped the side as he brings his years of experience to every game, and always steps up when times get tough. Winning the league this year would really crown a fantastic career for a very special player.”
Last weekend, Sheffield extended their league lead to 11 points after 16 games with a 20-13 home victory over bottom club Horden, who have yet to win a game all season.
Their closest title challengers, Percy Park, dropped points for the first time at home this campaign, losing 16-7 to Sheffield’s Saturday opponents.
“I’m pleased we got the win but our performance was poor - we thought it was going to be much easier than it was and I don’t think we were in the right mind-set,” said Tommy, who joined the club at 13 years of age.
“There were a few factors against us, like the weather and the referee, but that’s not an excuse because we made some very poor decisions on the pitch and we won’t be playing like that this weekend.
“We were taken aback by how Horden played and we were slow out the blocks, I’m just thankful we got the much-needed win and we were lucky that Percy Park dropped vital points.”
The Abbeydale-based side will face a stern test against Alnwick, who have now won their last four games, and Tommy has warned that the players must be switched on from kick-off or face dropping vital points in the title race.
“It’s going to be a very tough game, especially because we have a four hour coach journey to get there,” said Marples, affectionately known as ‘Phats’ or ‘Fats’ to his teammates.
“So it is imperative that we start the game at a quick tempo.
“Alnwick are on a good run but I want us to put a stop to that. We need to be completely switched on from the whistle and playing the sort of rugby that we know we can.
“We need to make sure we are getting the basics right and cutting out silly errors. I expect it to be a tough game but we are more than good enough to come away with a result.”
Of their 16 games this season, Sheffield have won 13 and lost just three, with their last defeat coming at the beginning of January - a narrow 20-16 loss away at Ilkley.
And the blue and whites were unbeaten at home in the 2014 calendar year, a record only matched once before in 1971.
Tommy, who has also played in the hooker and tighhead prop position, has experienced many highlights with the club but picked out last season’s relegation battle as the biggest achievement.
His favourite match was away at Darlington in the 2010/11 Yorkshire One play-offs.
“Last season we were completely written off at Christmas and we had to win our last seven games,” he remembers.
“But we miraculously did and I have never been prouder. Coaches Adam Byron and Nick Crapper played a big part in the turn around and we have taken that confidence into this campaign.
“When I first started playing we were a very big and physical team, especially in the forwards. But our outlook has changed, especially under Adam, because there is a lot more focus on fitness and speed. Right now we have a very talented players with great agility.
“The Darlington game has to be my best individual match as I scored the winning try with five minutes to go which saw us get promoted. Diving over the line was an unforgettable feeling and hopefully there will be more celebrations at the end of this season.”
Head coach Byron added to the tributes, saying: “Tommy is a tremendous player and he has been a real rock in the team for such a long time. He brings a vast amount of knowledge and experience to the team which has really helped a lot of the young players this season.
“We are good enough to get that title this year and I hope we get a few more years out of him yet when we should be playing in the national leagues where Tommy and the rest of the players belong.”