LONG-SERVING Kenny Hughes believes Oldham will be good enough to make an impact on League 1 next season.
He thinks new signings — nine so far and counting — will more than compensate for the players who have gone and he expects new-look Roughyeds to be challenging for a quick return to the Kingstone Press Championship.
With Bradford Bulls in there and clubs like Oldham, Keighley, Hunslet, Doncaster, Whitehaven, Workington and York joining them in a northern powerhouse of traditional clubs in a 14-strong division, rugby league pundits at large are anticipating one of the best and most competitive promotion battles for years.
Having been at Oldham for seven years and having graduated from the reserves, hooker Hughes (27) is well qualified to give an overview of the Roughyeds chances of getting out of the sport’s third tier at the first attempt.
“It’s going to be tough,” he said, “but we’ve as much chance as anyone else and, like the Bulls, we’ve got the advantage of having played and competed at Championship level last year.
“That’s where we should be. With due respect to League 1, I want to get back up as quickly as we can and I know the others think the same.
“Hopefully, we’ll go better this year than we did last time and I say that because we learned a lot in adversity last season.
“We’ve lost a few good lads, but they’ve been replaced with good lads too and I feel there’s absolutely no reason why we can’t get back up.
“I’m sure we’ll go well with ‘Chewy’ (David Hewitt) coming of age at scrum-half and with Paul Crook alongside him at stand-off.
“Adam Neal is working us hard in the gym. He felt that, man for man, we were a little bit on the light side last year so he is trying to bulk us up a little bit, not too much, so that we are a little bit stronger for the battles that lie ahead.
“With the ball we’ve changed the format slightly and, within that new structure, we’ve been concentrating on familiarising the new blokes with our moves and getting their timing right when hitting the line.
“On the new artificial pitch we’ve been able to do a lot more work with the ball than in previous years. There’s no mud, for starters, and the surface will make for a much faster game.
“The lads we’ve brought in are all good players. They’ve settled in really well and, like the rest of us, they just want to start playing.”
Like his fellow hookers Gareth Owen and Matty Wilkinson, ‘king Kenny’ will take the competition in his stride, as he has always done at Oldham, going back to the days of Adam Files.
He went on: “Most clubs have three hookers these days, but it’s always been the case at Oldham and we’ve learned to appreciate that healthy competition is a good thing. It’s how it should be.
“Gaz (Gareth Owen) and Matty (Wilkinson) will have something to say about it, but I hope to keep the starting spot. I had no worries with coming off the bench when I was younger, but as you get older it’s actually much easier to start a game than it is to join in later.”