Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Sunday's Coming - Oldham

Just for a week, park all those ‘expansive’ thoughts of trips to the far flung extremities of the RL map. This week’s trip to Whitebank is old-skool ‘Rugby’ - near neighbours who’ve been playing derby games for longer than the sport of League has existed.

Oldham come into the game on the back of four straight wins - and top of an increasingly tight Kingstone Press League One. Lovers of irony may indeed want them to stay there , as the the only way out of this league this year is via one of two play-off finals. Given Oldham’s record in play-off finals and all…

Whitebank earlier today: probably just needs
a roll and a cut...
Certainly, Whitebank’s idiosyncratic topography will play a major part in Oldham’s run-in. Indeed
only this week the Oldham Chronic ran a feature on how the world’s only sloping swamp gives The Roughyeds a clear advantage. Ex- Salford forward Adam Neal said: “Generally speaking we play better at home, so at the very least we’ve got to target winning all those (remaining home games)”.

Oldham dealt with the first of those games - against York last week - in some style. Playing in monsoon conditions, they were 12-6 down after 54 minutes, but went on to win by 34 to 12: 18 of those points coming in the last 10 minutes. The most impressive stat: they kept York scoreless for 65 minutes, so some big defence there.

Roughyeds chairman Chris Hamilton thought the result was never in doubt:  “With the wind and rain behind us in the second half I was confident we would have enough to win.”

Coach Scott Naylor was pragmatic in his summary: “We had talked at half-time about the need to work harder, to be more aggressive and to be more direct… York rarely got anywhere near our try line (sic) in the second half. I’m seeing a different, more mature, Oldham now and we are looking better at controlling and managing certain situations. From the moment we levelled things up at 12-12 I felt we had the ascendancy. We kept it for the rest of the game and that’s a good sign of mental maturity. We tend to forget that League One this season is unbelievably tough.”

And we agree with him. We wrote a couple of weeks ago about how every last breath of air is being squeezed out of the top eight - with just five points now separating the top eight and every team in there seemingly capable of beating any of the others regardless of venue.

But this week sees six of the top eight playing ‘southern’ opposition - with only the A627M El Clasico pairing two contenders for the top five. Assuming that no miracles will be forthcoming elsewhere, it makes a win even more important.

Having seen off North Wales and Newcastle on their own patch, we know that Hornets are capable of finding ways to win close contests that matter - an that resolute, bloody-minded approach will be needed in spades at Whitebank on Sunday. For both teams, this could be the fulcrum on which the season turns: For Hornets, to cement our position and remove Oldham from top spot; for Oldham to emphasise their table topping credentials and shove Hornets back into the chasing pack.

Just as it always has, this derby is a game that actually means something. We wouldn’t have it any other way.

Other news
Hornets have signed Saints prop Matt Haggarty on loan for the remainder of the season. The 24 year old is hugely experienced, having played at Leigh Miners Rangers, Salford, Whitehaven, Barrow, Oldham and Dewsbury before being snapped up by Saints at the start of the year. He joins fellow ex-Barrovian Danny Jones in a remodelled front row after the loss of Sam Brooks, Tony Suffolk, Ant Walker, Richard Beaumont and now John Cookson.