AWAY from rugby, Lewis Palfrey’s Monday-to-Friday boss is Oldham’s assistant coach Lee ‘Spanner’ Spencer.
And, in a team of three, the Rochdale and former Oldham goalkicker and half-back spends his working week installing fireplaces and wood burners alongside his ex-Oldham team mates Adam Clay and Jack Spencer under ‘Spanner’s’ supervision.
They work for Spencer snr. on sub-contract to Fireplace Superstore of Cheadle, one of the Roughyeds’ sponsors.
This weekend they’ll spend part of Saturday together too . . . Palfrey in the Rochdale camp, Clay and the father-and-son Spencers on duty for Oldham as the two clubs go head to head in a finely-balanced Summer Bash derby battle at Blackpool.
Work mates they might be, but when overalls come off, to be replaced by rugby kit and the colours of two proud clubs, fierce rivalry takes over.
“Rugby is usually the main topic of conversation through the week but, to be honest, there hasn’t been a lot of talk about the derby in the last few days,” said ‘Spanner’.
“Both teams are coming off a loss last weekend, which stops Lewis or our lads doing any bragging but, apart from that, the three of them are well aware that they need to play their cards close to their chests and not give anything away.
“That doesn’t stop a bit of leg-pulling, all friendly fun, but that’s as far as it goes. When the lads finish work on Friday night they won’t meet again until the game is over.
“And they’ll be back in work as usual on Monday morning, teaming up again with a few bruises, but still the best of mates. That’s rugby league.”
The mate v mate angle doesn’t end there, given that Hornets players Jack Holmes, Josh Crowley, Palfrey, Gary Middlehurst and Miles Greenwood are all former Roughyeds, Holmes, Palfrey and Middlehurst as recently as last season.
When the teams met at the Crown Oil Arena in March it finished all square at 26-26.
Oldham would have taken a draw at half-time, when Hornets held a substantial lead, but the Roughyeds totally dominated the second half to build what looked like an unassailable 26-14 lead before they blew it in the last few minutes when Gavin Bennion and Ryan Maneely scored converted tries to snatch a draw.
Since then, neither club has enjoyed the sort of success they had hoped for.
Oldham have been inconsistent, beating Bradford Bulls and Swinton Lions at home and Dewsbury Rams away (after training heavily at half time), but suffering heavy losses against Batley (twice), Toulouse Olympique and London Broncos, both away.
Hornets have gone ten games without a win and haven’t picked up winning pay since they snatched a 10-9 victory at Featherstone with a late penalty goal by Palfrey on March 5 — the week before they drew with Scott Naylor’s men.
“Both teams badly need a win,” added ‘Spanner’, who has a close friend and gym partner in the Hornets’ assistant coach Jason Viller.
“Jason and I often work out together in our local gym. We haven’t spoken much about the game , but we’ve each been wearing our tightest tops this week to show off our biceps ! That’s what a derby game can do to you.
“There will be a lot of nerves surrounding this game. Apart from all the usual derby-day stresses and tensions there will be additional pressure on the lads because of the sense of occasion, TV coverage, a bigger crowd than usual and things like that.
“The team that settles down first will give itself a good chance. I think that will be very important.
“Both sets of players will be aware of how much this game means to their clubs, their supporters and their towns.
“There isn’t a lot of difference between them, but there’s no reason at all why Oldham can’t come out on top.”
Palfrey, who captained Oldham for four seasons before his surprise move to the other side of the M627, had a poor game when the sides last met, missing two or three penalty-goal or conversion attempts in the first half.
Over the course of the season, he has kicked nine goals fewer than his Oldham replacement, Scott Leatherbarrow, but he will be determined to make amends this time — a reason for Naylor’s men to make sure they are squeaky-clean and keep their infringements down to the absolute minimum.
Roughyeds will also need to toughen-up defensively — an aspect of their game on which they have been concentrating heavily in training this week.