OLDHAM are bracing themselves for a Leigh backlash after the Centurions’ shock defeat at Batley Bulldogs on day one of the Championship season
It was their fourth defeat in a row, following three losses at the end of last season in the Super 8s when their promotion dream turned into a nightmare.
Four months later, on the eve of the new season, coach Paul Rowley resigned and then, in new coach Neil Jukes’s first game in charge, they relinquished a 22-12 lead at Batley to lose 24-22.
Gareth Hock didn’t play, but most of their stars did —- Rangi Chase, Martyn Ridyard, Ryan Brierley, Fuifui Moimoi, Micky Higham and Harrison Hansen, to name but a few.
With Hock likely to come in and Chase thought to be in line to switch from full-back to half-back, Oldham face a monumental task at the Leigh Sports Village on Sunday (3pm) in only their second outing at this level.
A measure of Leigh’s spending power is the signing on a two-year contract of former Leeds, Wakefield and Great Britain ace Lee Smith to replace full-back Gregg McNally, who could be out for up to six months with a serious knee injury.
Smith is likely to make his debut on Sunday, allowing superstar Chase to spearhead Leigh’s attack from his more familiar role at half-back.
Of the 19 players at Scott Naylor’s disposal last weekend the two who missed out on selection were hooker Gareth Owen and centre Jon Ford, neither of whom were at their best in the pre-season games at Keighley, Barrow and Rochdale.
Whether one or both will be given the opportunity to hit some form at Leigh is not yet known.
Danny Grimshaw, who missed the 22-0 defeat by London with a leg injury, trained normally last night.
Kenny Hughes had treatment for a long-standing knee injury, but of the 21 players in the squad only Craig Briscoe, who will have a scan on his damaged knee on Sunday, is a definite non-starter.
For the second game in a row Roughyeds won’t have the benefit of dual-registration personnel because partner club Huddersfield Giants currently have an exceptionally long injury roster.
Said Naylor: “It’s horrendous. Paul Anderson (Giants boss) can’t let anybody go out because he has so many players unavailable.
“If ‘Grimmer’ (Grimshaw) and Kenny (Hughes) are okay I’ll have 20 players to select from, but to be honest I don’t yet know what I’m going to do.
“ ‘Grimmer’ got through the full session, but he had slight discomfort so we’ll leave a final decision a while longer.
“I’ve still to decide on the 13 and then on the 17.
“Nobody did anything last week to warrant not playing, but in the past I’ve always changed my teams early in the season to give as many players as possible some substantial game time.
“As for Craig (Briscoe), he’ll have a scan on Sunday so by the middle of next week we should know what we’re up against and we can then take it from there.”
Turning his thoughts to Sunday’s game at LSV, Naylor said Centurions were massive favourites to go up to Super League this time because of the money thy had spent and the quality of their squad.
He went on: “They’re playing in the Championship with Super League players, but we’ll go there with the intention of trying to play at a higher level than we did against London. If we can improve on last week it will be a positive and a step forward as we start to look towards Dewsbury’s visit to Bower Fold.
“I’m expecting Leigh to be absolutely on the ball after getting beaten at Batley. They’ll be desperate to win for their new coach.
“We’ve worked on a few things this week that we weren’t happy with against London, so we’ve got to put them practice.”
Jukes, the new Leigh boss, said: “All teams will be playing in a grand final when they play us.
“Every neutral will want us to lose. That’s fine. But we’ve got to deal with it and get on with the job.”
OLDHAM (from): Lepori, Clay, Ashton, Holmes, Ford, Chisholm, Palfrey, Roper, Grimshaw, Joy, Owen, Hughes, Gee, Files, Spencer, Crowley, Langtree, Hope, Thompson, Ward.
LEIGH (from): Smith, Higson, Worthington, Armstrong, Kay, Ridyard, Brierley, Chase, Moimoi, Higham, Weston, Hansen, Dixon, Emmitt, Maitua, Spencer, Foster, Hopkins, Tonga, Paterson.