BUOYED by their 38-16 win against Dewsbury Rams, Oldham will go to Featherstone on Sunday feeling they’ve got to have a realistic chance of causing another upset
Statistics alone never tell a full story, but the platform on which Roughyeds raced into an astonishing 24-0 interval lead was unquestionably provided by their first-half set completion rate of 93 per cent.
In the first 20 minutes, which provided tries for Tom Ashton and Gareth Owen, it was a perfect 100 per cent.
That’s what you call respecting possession — and if Scott Naylor’s men can do it again in the Big Fella’s Stadium, while all the time playing with the energy and the controlled aggression that stunned the Rams, then Featherstone will know they’ve got a battle on their hands at the very least.
For all but one member of the Oldham party it will be a journey into the unknown. Roughyeds haven’t played at Featherstone — still known back then as Post Office Road — since they were beaten 24-18 in a National League 2 game in the summer of 2007.
They were also beaten by Rovers in the home league fixture that year and in the same season’s NL2 Grand Final at Headingley.
Two years later they clashed in the Northern Rail Cup quarter-final at Leigh Sports Village where Rovers prevailed once again, 32-18.
The last time Oldham took anything off them was at Post Office Road in 2005 when a Roughyeds side coached by Gary Mercer and his assistant Keith Brennan drew 20-20 in National League 1.
Most of the present-day squad, who will be going to Featherstone for the first time, were still in school back then.
“It’s ages since I was there myself,” said Naylor. “I haven’t been with any team for many years, but I remember it from my playing days. It’s an iconic ground, one of rugby league’s landmark stadiums, like Watersheddings used to be.
“It’s always been an extremely tough place to go. Our attitudes and mentality will have to be right — it’s just a game of rugby.”
The one Oldham player who won’t be treading new ground is Danny Grimshaw. Born in the nearby former pit village of Sharlston, he supported Rovers as a boy and he even had a short spell at Post Office Road early in his playing career.
He still lives in Sharlston where, so the story goes, every lad in the village dreams of playing for Rovers.
‘Grimmy’ will no doubt have had more than a few words in the boss’s ear about what Rovers can be expected to throw at them.
Coached by Jon Sharp, they have loads of experience right across the park with danger men in full-back Danny Craven and halves Kyle Briggs and Anthony Thackeray, They link well as a trio in attack and will need to be closely marked.
They used three dual-reg youngsters from Leeds Rhinos in their narrow home win against Batley Bulldogs a fortnight ago, but Ash Handley, Mitch Achurch and Jordan Baldwinson are all included this week in the Leeds squad to go to Catalan Dragons.
To compensate for that, Sharp will recall, after injury and suspension, forwards Jamie Cording and Colton Roche.
The Rovers boss, short of a hooker following injury to Matty Wildie, will be looking enviously at Naylor’s riches in that department as provided by Gareth Owen, Sam Gee, Kenny Hughes and Adam Files.
Owen, a slow starter in each of the last two campaigns, bounced back to form with a stunning, two-try performance against Dewsbury.
If the smallest man on the Oldham team can work similar magic in the Big Fella’s Stadium, Rovers will know they’ve got a battle on their hands.