KENNY Hughes’s best 26th birthday present was a new contract to extend his stay at Oldham RL, the club he has been with since he arrived to play in the reserves in 2011.
He’s the 11th member of the current squad who will be back next year and the fifth who has worked for Scott Naylor since the boss succeeded Tony Benson in the autumn of 2012.
Phil Joy, Michael Ward, Danny Langtree and Hughes were all at the club when Naylor walked in for the first time — and Liam Thompson joined them from Widnes before the 2013 season began.
Looking ahead to his seventh season as a Roughyed, the first two spent in a reserve team which reached successive grand finals, happy hooker Hughes said he found it hard to believe that it was his 26th birthday this week.
He added: “I don’t know where the years have gone. But a lot of us in the team have all grown up together with Scott as the boss and I think that counts for a lot, especially when the going gets tough.
“This season was a massive leap from League 1, in skill levels, toughness and physicality, and to get through it we had to come together more as a team.
“We are bonding better all the time and it’s good to know that the bulk of this year’s squad will be here again next year, no doubt to be topped-up by one or two newcomers.
“On a personal note I think I’ve matured as a player this season in a tough environment.
“It’s going to be even tougher next year with a Super League club coming down and the likelihood that Toulouse Olympique will be coming up.
“If we learn from this season’s mistakes and we improve on game management there’s no reason why we can’t go up the ladder a few notches.”
A former St Helens academy player, like Langtree, Hughes has signed a new one-year deal.
Naylor said of him: “He’s had a fantastic season and I’m delighted he’ll be with us again next year.
“Now he’s got a season under his belt at this level he’ll go better and better, as will the other lads we’ve re-signed. Continuity is important.
“Kenny is a very professional lad. We can rely on him to be the best he can possibly be in every game and that’s without exception.”
Thompson, who has also re-signed, had a pain-killing injection before the Whitehaven game to enable him to play with a sore shoulder.
He said: “It’s been a season of ups and downs, but in the end we got to where we needed to be and all the hard work paid off.
“A lot of the boys celebrated on the field when we beat Whitehaven, but my only emotion was one of sheer relief, perhaps because there were times when I thought my shoulder was dropping off.
“A close game with such a lot riding on it isn’t good for the heart or for the well-being of Scott, ‘Spanner’ and Pete (coaching staff).”
During the close season, Thompson is going back to the University of Central Lancashire (UCLAN) at Preston to study for a Masters in sports science.
One of his lecturers will be former Oldham prop and captain Andy Proctor.