THE relevance of prop power and front-row domination is reflected in Scott Naylor’s team-building operation for next season.
Having re-signed Phil Joy, Jack Spencer and Michael Ward, the Oldham boss went out and recruited a fourth front-rower in Ben Davies from Whitehaven.
He’s now added a fifth by retaining Joe Burke for a second year on a new contract; and given Naylor’s insistence that middle-unit solidarity is a pre-requisite of KP Championship success, the Welshman might not be the last prop to put pen to paper for 2017.
Dual-reg Tyler Dickinson (18 times) and on-loan Jack Blagbrough (seven times) were also used extensively in the engine room last season with four props on duty in nearly every game.
Burke, signed in March from North Wales Crusaders, put in a 22-game shift and did enough to earn a new deal.
Said Naylor: “He’s got a big engine, which means he has good minutes in him and that’s a strong asset for any front-rower to possess.
“He went better and better as the season progressed. He’s a good pro with everything he needs to be a top-class prop and it’s good that he will be with us again next year.”
Burke, who has played several times for Wales, is sweating on playing for his country again in the forthcoming World Cup qualifiers.
He’s included in the train-on squad and is now waiting to hear if he has made the final cut.
“We should know by weekend,” said Newport-born Burke, who confirmed that he had enjoyed his first few months at Bower Fold.
He went on: “I was a late arrival, but the boys made me feel welcome and helped me to settle in.
“I had played previously in the Championship with North Wales Crusaders so I knew what to expect — a massive jump from League One in terms of intensity, physicality and speed.
“We set goals that were realistic and achievable and we got to where we wanted to be.
“It’s no secret that Oldham’s budget is a lot less than many of the other clubs in the division so to stay up there, with Swinton, was all the more creditable.
“It was a learning curve for everybody, I think, but there’s no reason why we can’t aim higher next year.”