ALL eyes at the Law Cup clash will be on the rival halves —- Scott Leatherbarrow and David Hewitt for Oldham, Danny Yates and Lewis Palfrey for Rochdale.
This time last year Palfrey was still basking in the glory of leading Roughyeds to promotion, lifting two League One trophies as captain and then walking away with the Kingstone Press League One player-of-the-year award.
Who would have thought then that little more than 12 months later, after four seasons as Oldham captain, goalkicker and key midfield pivot, Palfrey would be walking out at Bower Fold in a Rochdale Hornets shirt ?
He still works at his day job alongside his former Oldham colleagues Adam Clay, Jack Spencer and Jack’s dad Lee, the Roughyeds’ assistant coach.
Inevitably, his performance at Bower Fold on Sunday (3pm kick-off) will come under close scrutiny in comparison with that of the man now taking over his every Roughyeds role apart from that as captain.
Wigan-based Leatherbarrow, a new signing from London Broncos, will be doing exactly the same job for Scott Naylor’s men as the one Palfrey will be doing for Rochdale, even down to goalkicking one would imagine.
It’s going to be a fascinating personal contest in what promises to be a derby clash that’s full of pride and passion as Oldham bid to win their fourth Law Cup win in a row (Naylor has never lost one) and Hornets strive to live up to the high expectations they’ve placed upon themselves since winning promotion with a fabulous win at Toulouse Olympique last September.
They’re both aged 26, but Leatherbarrow is the younger by six months with considerably more Championship experience than Palfrey, having played 50-odd games in that division for Batley Bulldogs before going full time with Broncos a year ago.
He and his girl friend didn’t settle in London and were keen to get back to their native Wigan, a move that worked in Oldham’s favour when they inquired about signing him.
While each of them will be under the spotlight, their half-back partners won’t exactly be in the shadows.
Interestingly, each pair will comprise of an experienced campaigner and a young starlet, Hewitt for Oldham, Yates for Rochdale.
They used to be in the St Helens academy together, Hewitt with his hometown club, Yates having been scouted while playing for Waterhead where his dad, Andy, was once a player of some repute and his grandad, Derek, was a youth-section coach.
Aged 21, Hewitt is 17 months younger than Yates, who was the Kingstone Press League One young player of the year in 2016.
Both will play a similar role —- backing up breaks, helping out with tactical kicking, sniffing out tries and making the most of good yardage and quick play-the-balls.
Either way, Leatherbarrow and Hewitt or Palfrey and Yates will have a lot to say in who wins the first Law Cup game ever to be played at Stalybridge.