OLDHAM fans could see as many as five former Roughyeds in the red, white and blue of Rochdale Hornets when the derby rivals clash at Bower Fold on Sunday (3pm) for the right to lift the Law Cup.
With silverware, local bragging rights and so many ex-members of Scott Naylor’s squad returning to Bower Fold in the “wrong” colours, the Oldham boss has already stressed that this third and final pre-season game is NOT a friendly.
“The season starts here. This is for real,” added Naylor, who sampled several Bradford-Leeds derbies in his playing days and needs no reminding of what they mean to players and supporters of both clubs.
It will be Rochdale’s first visit to Stalybridge, but with Lewis Palfrey, Gary Middlehurst and Jack Holmes in the Hornets squad there will be no shortage of nous about Bower Fold’s dimensions and peculiarities.
Josh Crowley and Miles Greenwood also figured in the side beaten 44-18 by Super League’s Salford Red Devils last Sunday, while Roughyeds were drawing 22-22 at Barrow.
Both coaches will regard Sunday’s showdown as a measure of where they are at in terms of the Championship, given that they will definitely meet three times in the regular season and probably a fourth time in the Shield after the late-season split.
Dave Cookson, a sixth Oldham old boy, won’t play for Rochdale because he is waiting for an operation, but coach Alan Kilshaw, starting his second season at Spotland after winning promotion in year one, hopes to welcome back high-scoring winger Rob Massam, formerly of North Wales Crusaders, and Ryan Maneely.
Hornets have set the bar high in their expectations for their first season back in tier two and that is again reflected in Kilshaw’s optimism.
He said: “We’ve made massive improvements on and off the field. We’ve made great leaps in professionalism which shows in the very exciting squad we’ve been able to attract.”
Having already sampled one year at this level, Oldham boss Naylor is more guarded. “To improve every year in this division is difficult, but that’s the plan,” he said.
“It’s going to be tough with Toulouse coming in. Last year, our rivals viewed Oldham and Swinton at home as banker wins, but nobody can say that about Toulouse.”
Naylor wasn’t happy with his team’s performance at Barrow even though they earned a 22-22 draw minus SEVEN senior players.
He’ll be hoping to have more positive news on at least five of them — Danny Grimshaw, Liam Thompson, Joe Burke, Michael Ward and new captain Gareth Owen — after training tonight.