Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Sunday's Coming - Oldha... er... Oxford.

Every pantomine needs a villain ('oh no it doesn't' we hear you cry) - and giving 'Big-Spending North Wales Crusaders'™ a run for their money in KPCh1 this season are new boys Oxford. Well, we say new boys…

Described to us only last month by a senior official at another KPCh1 club as "16 mercenaries on a minibus from the North every fortnight", Tony Benson has - it seems - quite literally bussed in a ready-made, off the peg Rugby League side that, to us,  has nothing to do with developing the game outside the heartlands and everything to do with fulfilling an action point on an RFL spreadsheet.
Bussing them in: The actual Iffley Road bus earlier today.

At the unveiling of the Oxford club last year, RFL Chief Operating Officer Ralph Rimmer said the the League's plan for introducing new teams into Championship One from new geographical areas is to "unearth and develop new players, provide more opportunities and increase the sport’s playing pool".

Keen to see how this plan is rolling out in Oxford we took a look at their squad.

Amongst a smattering of Irish lads and a token selection of former SW conference players, TLCRF80mins reckons that Benson's Oxford side contains no fewer than TEN former Oldham players (Lucas Onyango, Shaun Robinson, Dave Ellison, Tommy Connick, John Clough, Chris Clarke, Valu Bentley, Martin Roden, Danny Halliwell and Alex Thompson) plus former Hornet Johnny Leather and former Widnes academy half-back Danny Price. In fact, if you look on their 'Squad Profiles' page on their website, half of the squad are actually pictured wearing Oldham shirts (true!).

Ostensibly rooted in the University's sports department, the club is headed-up by Former St Helens CEO Tony Colquitt and they seem to have settled fairly well with an average home attendance of just over 300 so far.

Unsurprisingly, Tony Benson's side has been pretty competitive - though a points difference of +2 suggests that they nick games. Having pulled off a shock win at Oldham and taken NW Crusaders very close, last weekend Oxford sneaked past  Gateshead Thunder by 27 to 22, leaving them second in the table with the same number of wins as Hornets - but artificially elevated by virtue of three bonus points.

While the Oxford 'concept' is one that we should embrace in the name of expansion, it still feels to us like a bit of a souless exercise - an RFL box-ticking exercise involving a squad specifically recruited to fulfil a task, rather than a club with a heartbeat, a passion for our game and a desire to 'grow in the community':  a flat-packed club that could've been assembled anywhere.

So much for perceptions. Even amongst the most ardent Rugby League expansionistas here at TLCRF80mins Towers we have our doubts about this (though some may argue that the imported Northern team model was what got Fulham off the ground 30 years ago). The only way to really find out whether there is a soul behind the facade is to go and have a look. So we will.

See you down at Iffley Road on Sunday - here's the quickest route to get there:

South onto the M6.
Take the M6 Toll -  exit onto M42 southbound.
Exit M42 at J3A onto M40 southbound.
Take the M40 south until J9. Exit at J9 and take A41/A34 Oxford and head towards Cowley and Henley.
At the roundabout, take the 1st exit onto Southern By-Pass Rd/A423.
At the roundabout, take the 1st exit onto Abingdon Rd/A4144.
Turn right onto Weirs Lane /B4495 and continue to follow B4495.
Turn left onto Iffley Rd/A4158 and then turn left onto Jackdaw Lane.

Google Maps has it at 184 miles - 2 hours 50 minutes. Drive Safely - and keep an eye out for that minibus!