SCOTT Naylor saluted his Oldham players for their “grit and determination” in following up their 22-22 draw at Batley with their first win against arch rivals Rochdale in five derby clashes this season.
Roughyeds won 30-24 at the Crown Oil Arena after defending magnificently during a crucial spell in the second half when they led only 18-14 and Hornets were able to set up base camp in the Oldham 20 with seven back-to-back sets.
“Courage and desire kept our line intact during that onslaught and it was great to see,” said the Roughyeds’ upbeat head coach.
“Six or seven weeks ago we wouldn’t have done it, “he added. “But there’s been a change of attitude and a helluva lot more desire in the lads. That’s down to the conditioner and to the training we do.
“We’ve shown we can match anyone over 80 minutes and that’s good, given that there’s every likelihood our last three games will all go the distance.
“A win has been a long-time coming, but it was fully deserved. The performance was good and solid and, to be honest, I thought there was something dubious about each of their last two tries.
“We led from beginning to end, but we had to do it tough, especially when we had so much defending to do in the second half.
“We showed the same sort of grit and determination that we produced against Batley and Bradford and when you’ve got that, allied to a bit of class from Luke Hooley and Dave Hewitt and the variation of our three hookers you can open up teams and put them under pressure.
“We haven’t done that enough this season, but we are doing it now and starting to get some reward.
“We’ve picked up three league points from the last four on offer in two away games and I believe it’s the first time we’ve earned at least one point in consecutive games all season.
“It’s the perfect time to do it — and that’s one of only several positives at the club right now. We’ve got players to come back and things are looking good.
“A couple of weeks ago our task to stay in this division looked a daunting one, but now we’re looking forward to it.
“Our win and Swinton’s win at Dewsbury has dragged Rochdale into the relegation battle. It’s between the three of us now and we’re fired up and ready for the challenge.”
We were off to a great start with the first of Joe Burke’s two tries in the first five minutes, courtesy of a dummy-half scoot by Matty Wilkinson. Luke Hooley added the goal from in front of the posts.
Over the rest of the first half tries came in turn at either end, with Chris Riley going in at the corner on Lewis Palfrey’s wide, cut-out ball and then in-form Luke Adamson extending Roughyeds’ lead with a solo try at the Sandy Lane end.
Jake Eccleston was next on the scoresheet when he touched down in the corner after a Danny Yates grubber had the visitors’ defence in a spot of bother.
The half drew to a close with Lewis Galbraith sin-binned for a trip on the classy-looking Hooley and Jono Smith forced to leave the field with a facial injury after a heavy tackle.
In between, a quick left-to-right shift by Roughyeds got Adam Clay in at the corner after the Hornets defence was pulled into the middle by good work from Sammy Gee.
Hooley was hurt when falling heavily after the trip so Scott Leatherbarrow took the conversion attempt off the touchline and failed only narrowly to add the extras.
Oldham thus went in at half-time with an 18-8 lead, having scored three tries to two. Lewis Palfrey couldn’t improve either of Hornets’ tries off the touchline, but Hooley successfully converted each of the Roughyeds’ first two tries with easier kicks and then added a penalty goal.
Hornets resumed in more determined mood, scoring first in the second half when Ryan Maneely squeezed over from dummy half. Palfrey’s goal cut the visitors’ lead to 18-14 and it was game on.
Both sides showed a lot of nerves after that and made numerous mistakes, but Oldham’s rearguard action was absolutely magnificent as they defended heroically while Hornets launched attack after attack and for long periods seemed to have almost exclusive rights on field position and possession.
Scott Naylor was to suggest later that the game was won and lost during that period when his boys rolled up their sleeves to keep the home side at bay.
On a hot day and towards the end of a fast game it was perhaps inevitable that the points would start to come again at both ends.
The late scoring spreed began when the superb Burke went in for his second Oldham try — after excellent build-up play featuring Adamson, Hooley and Kenny Hughes — to enhance his chances of making the Wales squad for the forthcoming World Cup.
Hooley’s goal pushed Roughyeds out to 24-14, but in a thriller there was a lot more drama still to come.
Rob Massam, a strong-running second-half sub, squeezed over in the corner for Hornets on a clever Galbraith pass, despite a magnificent cover tackle which many fans thought had edged the winger into touch.
With only a six-point lead now, Roughyeds were looking for a drop goal, but with Hornets expecting Dave Hewitt to go for the one-pointer, he sidestepped an onrushing defence, went for the gap and put Hooley under the posts for the match-clinching try, which he also improved with an easy kick.
That was game, set and match although Hornets refused to go away and in the dying seconds Joe Taira went over for Palfrey to goal and to immediately pull up with what looked like a hamstring or leg-muscle injury.
Oldham: — tries, Burke (2), Adamson, Clay, Hooley; goals, Hooley (5).
Hornets: tries, Riley, Eccleston, Maneely, Massam, Taira; goals, Palfrey (2).
Hornets: Kay; Penny, Ecceston, Galbraith, Riley; Palfrey, Yates; Mitchell, Maneely, Taira, Smith, Case, Walker. Subs: Hatton, Bennion, Hadden, Massam.
Oldham: Hooley; Clay, Morris, Tyson, Pearce-Paul; Leatherbarrow, Hewitt; Spencer, Wilkinson, Burke, Thompson, Bent, Adamson. Subs: Hughes, Adebiyi, Ward, Gee.
Referee: Gareth Hewer; Att: 927.