ROUGHYEDS left Whitebank in 2015 on the back of a superb Promotion Final victory over Keighley Cougars and they returned ‘home’ to the newly-named Vestacare Stadium more than two years later to produce another impressive performance against the Cougars, this time winning 52-6 in their third and final pre-season run-out.
After a 28-24 Law Cup win at Rochdale and a 16-6 defeat at Barrow in appalling conditions, Scott Naylor promised the best was yet to come on the firm, fast track provided by the new, top-of-the-range artificial pitch at the Vestacare.
He was right. Although seven senior players didn’t figure for different reasons, Naylor’s men swept the Cougars aside with a brand of all-action, crowd-pleasing rugby based on the strength of a massive pack, a good pair of half-backs, a superb dummy-half runner in Matty Wilkinson and an eagerness to move the ball wide whenever possible.
Playing the full 80 in the absence of Gareth Owen and Kenny Hughes, hooker Wilkinson destroyed a mesmerised Cougars defence and fully deserved his man-of-the-match billing for an outstanding individual performance.
Oldham’s mighty pack, strengthened even further by dual-reg props Gavin Bennion and Levy Nzoungou from Salford Red Devils, walked all over the Keighley forwards with eye-catching power play up front from the likes of Phil Joy, Bennion, Luke Nelmes and the mighty Nzoungou, a young Frenchman, born in the Congo, who left his teens behind only a week ago.
With all that in front of him, Wilkinson couldn’t go wrong; nor could half-backs Dave Hewitt, who scored two tries on the left, and Paul Crook, whose immaculate distribution on the other side of the field, served up plenty of opportunities for the wide runners outside him.
Roughyeds will be faced by significantly stronger opposition than this in the months ahead, but it was, nevertheless, a performance that was rich in promise for what lies ahead.
Creditably, Cougars kept battling to the end and never once showed any sign of letting their pride desert them, although they were heavily out-gunned.
A strong Nzoungou drive and offload paved the way for Hewitt to score the first of Oldham’s nine tries after 16 minutes. The scrum-half struck again a few minutes later when he broke clear, drew the full-back and sent in centre Zak McComb.
Nzoungou did more damage with another powerful surge that drove Cougars back to their own try line and from that position, Oldham moved the ball right for Crook to deliver the final pass for Steve Nield to go in.
The fourth try came shortly before half-time when Nzoungou crashed in himself on a good ball from Nelmes.
Three Crook goals from four shots gave Oldham a 22-0 interval lead, whereupon Naylor made changes to give each of his five trialists a run.
Danny Rasool replaced Jack Holmes at right centre; Joe Martin took over from Nield at full-back; and Harry Maders and Chris Barlow were introduced out on the left instead of McComb and Ben West.
The forwards continued to dominate and after Nelmes had twice forced Cougars into good defensive work to stop the eager-beaver Joy close to the line, the ball was moved swiftly right by Crook and Danny Langtree for Rasool to score the first of his brace past an outflanked defensive line.
Joy scored next on Wilkinson’s defence-splitting pass, then Rasool crossed for his second after more swift handling by Crook and, especially, by the supporting Martin.
At 40-0 with only quarter of an hour left Oldham must have been thinking of ‘nilling’ their opponents, but it wasn’t to be. Hewitt knocked-on a restart kick to give Cougars good field position and they capitalised when Brendon Rawlins crashed over for a try which Harry Aaronson goaled from wide out.
By this time, however, the visitors looked out on their feet and razor-sharp breaks by Wilkinson and Dave Eccleston set up two more late tries for Danny Bridge and Hewitt, both goaled by Crook to take his tally to eight from nine attempts.
OLDHAM: Nield; Eccleston, Holmes, McComb, West; Crook, Hewitt; Joy, Wilkinson, Bennion, Bridge, Langtree, Spencer; Replacements: Briscoe, Neal, Maders, Martin, Nelmes, Nzoungou, Rasool, Barlow.
KEIGHLEY: Hawkyard; Dixon, Leeming, Ryder, Aaronson; Hardcastle, Gaylor; Law, Lumb, Hallas, Senior, Parker, Rawlins. Replacements, Barker, Kenga, Walters, Ross, Reed, Barnes, Panter.
Referee: James Child; Att: 377.
Obligatory Victory Chant video.