OLDHAM’S battle to climb out of the KP Championship relegation zone starts here . . . at Bower Fold on Sunday against fourth-bottom Whitehaven.
Although they’ve lost their last seven league games and have won only four out of 18, Scott Naylor and his players are united in their belief that they can pull things round in their last 12 outings
— five in the regular season plus seven in the Championship Shield.
Their optimism is based on the return of several players after injury, headed by Richard Lepori and Craig Briscoe, and a relatively less stressful run-in with only one top-six team among their last five ‘regular’ matches.
“We’ve been battered and bruised for a while, but we should be okay now,” said head coach Naylor, who is looking for maximum points from upcoming home games against three relegation rivals in Whitehaven, Swinton Lions and Workington Town.
“We’ve had two extremely tough two months. Whitehaven will be tough too, but they are around us in the league and they are not near the top, which makes a change going off most of our games in the past few weeks.
“We’ve lads coming back from injury and we’re looking forward to the game. The squad should be a strong one.”
Roughyeds lost 14-6 at Whitehaven in April in their first game after their headline-catching Challenge Cup win at Hull KR.
They were heavily penalised by referee Warren Turley — as they have been in a lot of games this season — and with the game finely balanced Gary Middlehurst was unlucky to be sin-binned quarter of an hour from the end.
The RFL’s match review panel intimated later that there was little to be concerned about in the offending tackle.
Former Oldham player Thomas Coyle didn’t play that night because of injury, but he is likely to be in at hooker on Sunday, thus reviving memories of his golden-point drop-goal winner for Hunslet Hawks in the 2014 League One play-off final at Headingley.
It was a goal that broke Oldham hearts and condemned Roughyeds to a ninth season of third-tier rugby.
Lewis Palfrey and Co won’t want Coyle to get the better of them again in such dramatic fashion, nor will they relish his elder brother James, another ex-Roughyed, completing a league double this season in his role as Haven coach.
Said Coyle snr: “It’s a massive game for both clubs. There will be a lot of pressure and we’ll be out to make sure we handle it in the right way.
“We’ve played well in the last few games without getting anything out of them, so it’s important we get something from this one.”
Oldham will be out to maintain their discipline, especially on technicalities in the ruck for which they’ve been hammered by referees in many games this season.
Interestingly, they got it right last week in the eyes of referee Jamie Bloem, who pulled them up only four times in the entire game against Broncos.
For the first time in a long time Roughyeds ‘won’ the penalty count 9-4 and if they can get a similar response from Sunday’s man in the middle, Mr Mikalauskas, they will be well on the way to achieving a positive result.