NO Challenge Cup shock this time . . . but 17 players in Oldham jerseys gave their all in a 32-0 fifth-round defeat by Super League outfit Hull KR at Bower Fold.
Roughyeds knew that Rovers would be determined not to slip up this time, like they did against Scott Naylor’s men in the same competition at Craven Park in 2016, and so it proved.
The visitors were clinical in the first half, when left-centre Junior Vaivai had an absolute blinder as Rovers built up a 20-0 interval lead.
They scored two more tries in the second half and benefited from a penalty count of nearly two-to-one in their favour.
The tell-tale figures were 6-2 in the first half and 9-6 in the second, equivalent to 15-8 overall.
They don’t tell the whole story, though. Rovers had five penalties in a row in the first half and four of the first six in the second half, producing a run of nine out of 11 in a period that roughly covered half the game either side of half-time.
Not surprisingly, perhaps, it was during that period that Rovers scored five of their six tries when they had nearly all the ball — three in the 15 minutes before half-time and two more in the first 16 minutes of the second stanza.
Oldham spent most of the game defending against full-time professionals who played at a level that was vastly superior to anything ever seen in Betfred League 1.
They handled with speed and precision, had the knack of smuggling out offloads, displayed great footwork (even the big men) and had the ability to turn chances into points.
Credit Roughyeds, though, with a backs-to-the-wall fight that was brimming over with gallantry, guts and a stubborn refusal to let heads drop or to be bullied and bossed around by the bigger Rovers forwards.
Considering they were faced by quality opposition from Super League and were penalised nine times it was quite remarkable, in fact, that Scott Naylor’s men should let in only two second-half tries after the pounding they had taken in the run-up to half-time.
The middle-men — Phil Joy, Jack Spencer, Liam Bent, Craig Briscoe, Adam Jones and Luke Nelmes — made the Rovers forwards scrap for every yard and made sure they knew they were in a battle.
It was on the edges, and especially when catching Roughyeds out by running the ball on the last tackle, that Rovers did the damage.
New Zealand-born Vaivai, who made his debut at Warrington last week only because Tim Sheens had centre problems, is clearly going to give his boss problems of a different nature when his regular centres are back in harness.
Vaivai was the main man in creating each of the visitors’ four first-half tries by Chris Atkin, Adam Quinlan (2) and Will Oakes.
Size and strength, twinkle toes, acceleration, and a fierce fend combined to put the former NRL player in a league of his own.
Oldham’s right edge was torn apart, usually at the end of a set, by Vaivai’s brilliance; his willingness to also do the simple thing at the right time (like setting his winger free with room to exploit the touchline) and his lethal link with supporting full-back Quinlan.
The Aussie, once of St George Illawarra, capitalised with two first-half tries, and then completed his hat-trick early in the second half, whereupon he was taken off.
Vaivai didn’t come out for the second half and without these two exciting backs Rovers were never quite the same threat again, although Quinlan’s replacement, Will Dagger, scored a spectacular solo try that ended the visitors scoring as early as the 56th minute.
That statistic, perhaps more than any other, truly shows the effort Roughyeds put in over the full 80 despite knowing the game was out of reach and repeatedly getting sent back by penalties.
Danny Langtree, who ran hard and tackled tenaciously for the whole game, was named Oldham’s man of the match while the champagne-moment award went to Adam Jones for his big hit on giant Mose Masoe midway through the second half.
Early indications after the game were that Roughyeds came through a physical battle relatively unscathed.
Attention now reverts to the bread-and-butter business of League 1 and Sunday’s trip north to Workington Town — always a demanding mission and one which many would argue to be more important than a Challenge Cup battle against Super League opposition in terms of the Roughyeds’ continuing development.
Oldham: Hooley; Eccleston, Holmes, Reid, Kershaw; Crook, Hewitt; Joy, Owen, Spencer, Bridge, Langtree, Bent. Subs: Briscoe, Jones, Hughes, Nelmes.
Hull KR: Quinlan; Shaw, Salter, Vaivai, Oakes; Atkin, Marsh; Johnson, Cator, Scruton, Walne, Tickle, Donaldson. Subs: Masoe, Blair, Greenwood, Dagger.
Referee: Gareth Hewer; Att: 1,064