WITH Gary Middlehurst still waiting for his debut, Oldham RL have further strengthened their forwards by signing his former North Wales Crusaders team mate Joe Burke.
A Welsh international prop, Burke (25) has penned a deal to November 30 after being released from his obligations to cash-strapped Crusaders because they can’t meet contractual agreements and have twice asked players to take pay cuts.
“We have worked closely with Crusaders and have done things the right way,” said Oldham chairman Chris Hamilton. “I’ve been sorting it out with Brian Wake, one of their directors, who has been very helpful and particularly supportive of Joe.”
Newport-born Burke played in all Crusaders’ 30 games last season (28 starts, two sub appearances) and then signed for another year. His farewell appearance was as recently as last Sunday when he played in the home defeat by Barrow.
He trained with Oldham for the first time last night and will be available for selection in the squad to play Workington Town away on Sunday.
Added Hamilton: “He’s tall and rangy and a different kind of prop to our others. He’s been a tough opponent several times and he’ll slip easily into the work ethic and ethos of our club.
“He’s played in the Championship with Barrow in 2014 and now he’s keen to get back in there with us.”
Scott Naylor confirmed after training last night that Burke and Middlehurst are both in contention for the trip to Derwent Park as well as all other members of the squad apart from the sidelined Tom Ashton and Craig Briscoe.
He added: “In this division you need an abundance of forward strength. With only four props (Joy, Spencer, Ward, Thompson) we were walking a tightrope.
“Joe is a quality player. He’s mobile, hungry for success and he has the engine to do long spells.
“He’s very driven. He’s been in the Welsh squad for a while and he wants to stake a claim for a World Cup spot next year.
“The unfortunate situation at North Wales Crusaders has turned out to be a positive for us.
“Joe is am ambitious lad and in view of the problems at Crusaders he thinks they will struggle to get out of League One.
“He now pairs up again with ‘Gaz’ Middlehurst, who has put on some weight, is training well and is close to playing.
“We have a lot of competition in the pack now, and that’s what’s needed.
“We always start the season with a small squad and then add to it when the time is right and appropriate. That’s what we’ve done again.”