MATTY Wilkinson knew exactly what he was doing when he put pen to paper on a deal that tied him to Oldham to November 30.
He wasn’t looking for an easy ride, that’s for sure; not when you’re signing for a club that’s lost eight games on the spin and has just dropped into the bottom-two relegation zone.
The 21-year-old former Salford Red Devils hooker, who came of age only a fortnight ago, had a spell in League 1 with North Wales Crusaders last season and, more recently, he has been playing in the Championship with Halifax on dual-registration from what was then his Betfred Super League Club, the Red Devils.
When he got his release he could have signed permanently for Halifax, but he opted to join Roughyeds for several reasons, one of which was his genuine belief that Scott Naylor’s men can get that elusive win soon and then press on to secure their place in the second tier.
Having played against Oldham for Fax in the Yorkshire club’s 30-12 win at Bower Fold a fortnight ago, coming off the bench, Wilkinson is well qualified to tell Roughyeds how others see them.
“I know you wouldn’t think so because of the score, but Oldham should have won that day and if they’d scored when George Tyson broke and turned it inside to Scott Leatherbarrow, at 12-12, I firmly believe they would have won,” said the Roughyeds new boy.
Playing down the slope and rampant at that stage, Oldham had erased a 12-0 half-time deficit with tries by Scott Turner and Michael Ward and two Leatherbarrow goals.
They looked certain to go in front for the first time when Tyson sent Leatherbarrow on a free run to the line only to be recalled for a forward pass — a correct ruling, but one which was typical of how narrow margins have worked against Naylor’s men in the last few weeks.
“If they can play like that against Halifax, who are chasing a top-four place, there’s no reason why we — it’s ‘we’ now, isn’t it — can’t start to climb the table and get ourselves out of trouble.”
If selected, it all starts for Leigh-born Wilkinson at Bower Fold on Sunday against top-four French side Toulouse Olympique, who cantered to a 58-18 win against Roughyeds on a steaming hot day in Blagnac, a suburb of the French city, in April.
The return game brings the French to Stalybridge for the first time — and after their shock 32-24 defeat at Dewsbury last week they’ll be desperate to topple an Oldham side that will probably be multi-changed from the outfit that lined-up at Blagnac nearly three months ago.
With so many Oldham players carrying injuries it’s impossible to speculate at this stage on how the side will line up, but there’s every chance that Wilkinson and the other young new boys — on-loan trio Connor Williams, Kameron Pearce-Paul and Sadiq Adebiyi — will make their Bower Fold debuts.
Toulouse, formed in 1937, retain an ambition to get into Super League, having failed with a licensing application in 2009. They joined the Championship instead and spent three seasons in the English second tier before returning to French domestic rugby.
A further three years down the line, which included two French titles, they again applied to play in England and were admitted to League 1 for the start of the 2016 campaign.
Unbeaten all year until their shock home defeat by Rochdale in the promotion final, they got a second chance of going up via the play-offs and ultimately beat Barrow to clinch their place in the Championship this year.
Their away form is not as good as their form on French soil and they are not the same side since they lost their star half-backs, Jon Ford and Stan Robin, to injury.
To plug the gap they’ve enlisted 21-year-old Louis Jouffret from Catalans Dragons on dual-reg — a former Warrington and Whitehaven half, who is sure to be a key player on Sunday, operating behind a huge French pack.
A product of the Avignon club, he has international honours at all levels. up to under-23s.
Loose-forward Andrew Bentley, New Zealand-born but a French international on residential grounds, is the brother of former Oldham player Valu Bentley, who moved to Oxford with Tony Benson five years ago.