OLDHAM fans will get their first glimpse of many new signings in Sunday’s Law Cup clash with derby rivals Rochdale Hornets at the Crown Oil Arena (3pm kick-off).
The new-look squad currently numbers 21, ten of whom have been snapped up during the off-season to replace those who left the club at the end of the 2017 campaign which resulted in relegation back to League 1 after two seasons in the Kingstone Press Championship.
That meant a hugely significant decrease in central funding, but it hasn’t stopped chairman Chris Hamilton, who commands the purse strings, and head coach Scott Naylor, who sets his player targets, getting their heads together to come up with a squad they believe will be strong enough to mount a realistic challenge for promotion at the first attempt.
New boys are forwards Luke Nelmes, from Halifax, Adam Jones (Swinton), Liam Bent (Salford) and Danny Bridge (Redcliffe Dolphins, Australia) and backs Paul Crook (Rochdale), Danny Rasool (Warrington), Kyran Johnson (Feathersstone), Dave Ecclerston (St Helens), Matt Reid (Coventry) and Jack Holmes (Rochdale).
Roughyeds believe they will be particularly strong in the forwards — and they expect the pack to lay down a solid foundation for success and provide the momentum and go-forward that the experienced Crook will need to direct operations from stand-off half.
Sunday’s Law Cup showdown will be a nostalgic occasion for Crook, but he will be only one of several players on both sides who will go head to head with former team mates.
There will be three in Oldham’s expected line-up —- half-back Crook, second-row forward Bridge and utility back Holmes, who has obtained a return ticket to the Vestacare Stadium after a season and a bit at Rochdale.
Bridge, Oldham-born, made a big impression at Rochdale two or three years ago, doing enough to earn a contract with Queensland Cup side Redcliffe Dolphins in Australia in 2016 and 2017.
The six former Roughyeds in a provisional Rochdale squad are Lewis Palfrey, Miles Greenwood, David Allen, Luke Adamson, Richard Lepori and Gary Middlehurst.
Comparisons between Palfrey and Crook will be inevitable, given that the former –a promotion-winning Oldham captain and skipper for four years —- replaced Crook in the Rochdale side of 2017 .
Crook was away from the local derby scene last year, playing instead for Whitehaven, but Palfrey was a mainstay half-back for Rochdale and looks like retaining his partnership with Danny Yates in the coming Championship campaign.
Lepori, like Palfrey, was a popular and regular first-team man at Oldham; unlike Palfrey, he played under Naylor’s tutelage as recently as last season.
While Rochdale fans will feel it odd to be watching Crook in Oldham colours, they will be no more mesmerised than will Oldham supporters looking at ‘Lippy’ in red, white and blue.
It points to an intriguing mates v mates Law Cup clash which, from Oldham’s angle, will give supporters at least some chance of evaluating prospects for the upcoming League 1 campaign.
HORNETS (from): Greenwood, Kay, Hurst, Galbraith, Massam, Palfrey, Yates, Taira, Moores, Hadden, Allen, T Adamson, L Adamson, Maneeley, Hatton, Hema, Brickhill, Mitchell, Turner, Lepori, Gaskell, Middlehurst, Gregory, Mulkeen, Reardon.
OLDHAM (from): Johnson, Eccleston, Rasool, Reid, Nield, Holmes, Crook, Hewitt, Joy, Hughes, Wilkinson, Owen, Neal, Bridge, Langtree, Spencer, Jones, Davies, Briscoe, Bent, Nelmes.