LISTEN to rival coaches Scott Naylor and Paul Crarey and you get the feeling both teams will be in for a bumpy ride at Barrow on Sunday.will be Oldham’s second pre-season run-out; Barrow’s third. Naylor and Crarey believe this one will be for real.
Naylor said of the Raiders: “They’ve always been big and aggressive. Everybody in the game knows that Craven Park is a tough place to go. It will be a mental challenge for us as well as a physical one.
“They’ve signed quality players in the off-season and the draw with Workington last week will have given them confidence.
“It’s just the game we need to get us battle-hardened for the first Championship game against London Broncos.”
Crarey said of Naylor’s men: “They’ll make it a tough week for us. We did well against Workington, but this one will be more physical. Oldham will come wanting to fire up.”
With the London game at Stalybridge only two weeks away, Oldham’s boss is aware that in the next two warm-up outings at Barrow and Rochdale it will be time to get serious.
He used all 21 members of his squad at Keighley a fortnight ago and has since described events at Cougar Park as “a bit chaotic, in all honesty.”
The same 21 are all fit and itching to play at Barrow (3pm kick-off) and he also has at his disposal a number of Huddersfield Giants players on dual registration.
He is giving serious consideration, therefore, to playing 18 or 19 at Barrow and the same number at Rochdale, ensuring that most will play in both games and everybody in at least one.
“I need to give some players longer on the field than they got at Keighley,” said Naylor. “We’re stepping things up now and I want fewer replacements and more game time for the subs, so I don’t want to turn up at Barrow with too many players.
“If I use dual-reg boys it will be two at the most. It’s an option I have available to me and, looking ahead, it’s something we need to use.
“It’s important I get the balance right. On one hand I want team stability; on the other I want to get match-fitness spot-on right through the squad by the time I pick the 17 for our Championship baptism against the Broncos.
“I’ve got some tough decisions to make.”
Naylor doesn’t have a big squad for Championship rugby, yet in the forwards and at half-back he has more competition for places than he did last season.
For the past three years he has coped with only two out-and-out half-backs, whereas he now has three in Lewis Palfrey, Steve Roper and new recruit Danny Grimshaw.
In the forwards he has lost Adam Neal, but brought in Jack Spencer and Craig Briscoe who, if selected, will be returning on Sunday to his old Craven Park stomping ground for the first time.
He still has three hookers in Gareth Owen, Adam Files and Kenny Hughes and it remains to be seen whether he feels he can afford the luxury of naming all three in his 17 at Championship level, as he often did in the League One promotion campaign.
Out wide, Adam Clay, Jack Holmes and the other new boy, Jamel Chisholm, will be fighting for the two wing spots.
However, nowhere will the competition this season be fiercer than in those key play-maker roles which used to be known as scrum-half and stand-off but which, in the modern game, have now become similar half-back jobs, one on either side of the field.