GARETH Owen, who lives in Moorside, played his early rugby at Waterhead and is described by coach Scott Naylor as “a proud Oldhamer”, will captain his hometown Roughyeds on and off the field in the 2017 KP Championship season.
“He’s club captain as well as team captain — and for a lad who was born and brought up in the town that’s something special,” added the Oldham RLFC boss.
The 24-year-old hooker succeeds half-back Lewis Palfrey, who led Roughyeds for four years before leaving the club at the end of last season and signing for derby rivals Rochdale Hornets.
Naylor said the decision to invite Owen to take command was an easy one for himself and his assistants Lee Spencer and Peter Carey.
He went on: “Since he came to the club in 2014, ‘Gaz’ has been nothing but exceptional. He was made up when we offered him the captaincy and he was as proud as punch to accept. He didn’t even hesitate for a few seconds. He jumped at it.
“He’s a captain the other lads will look to, listen to and respect. He’s an important member of he team and I know he’ll do a good job.”
In his years as a full-time professional at Salford, Owen played in 36 Super League games before moving to Whitebank on loan with eight games left in the 2014 season.
He has since had two full seasons as a contracted Oldham player, scoring nine tries (but assisting many more) in a total of 64 games in the Roughyeds jersey.
He follows a long list of Oldham-born captains, going back to Mike Ford and Terry Flanagan (old club) and Neil Flanagan, John Hough and Gareth Barber (new club).
He will have two vice-captains in Sammy Gee, who has had that role for the past four years, and new-boy Scott Leatherbarrow.
As he has done previously, Owen will share the hooking role with others, principally Kenny Hughes, but Naylor said there was no relevance in the fact that the new skipper wouldn’t always be on the field in the thick of the action.
“We’re a 17-man game — and to pick a captain just because he is likely to be on the field for 80 minutes would be to do so for the wrong reasons.
“He has two vice-captains to help him out but, more importantly, ‘Gaz’ is captain of Oldham RLFC and there’s a lot more to that than leading the side every Sunday. He is club captain, with all that entails.
Owen will lead the side for the first time in Sunday’s pre-season warm-up game against Swinton Lions at Heywood Rd, Sale (3pm kick off).
On-loan centre Keiran Gill, from Castleford, won’t be available for this game or for the second friendly at Barrow on Sunday week, January 15 (2pm).
It remains to be seen whether Castleford will sanction his appearance in the Law Cup clash with Rochdale at Bower Fold on Sunday, January 22 (3pm) as he recovers from surgery on a damaged hand.
Nathan Chappell (knee) and Danny Grimshaw (groin), who are also on rehab after surgery, won’t be involved at Swinton, but Steven Nield and young wing trialist Harry Warburton will be, as will new signings Adam Neal, George Tyson, David Hewitt, Scott Leatherbarrow and Ben Davies.
The squad might also include dual-reg players from partner club Huddersfield Giants, but that won’t be known until later.
Looking ahead to the match, Naylor said: “It’s all about getting the lads back into game mode and physical contact.”