GIVEN that Oldham RLFC are aiming for their sixth Betfred League 1 win in a row and are well up there in the promotion mix, attendances at their last two home games have been disappointing.
Fewer than 500 fans saw Scott Naylor’s men thump Newcastle Thunder 28-12 and Hemel Stags 74-6 and the third-placed Roughyeds are hoping for significantly better support this Sunday when they entertain another promotion-chasing side, Doncaster, at the Vestacare Stadium (3pm kick-off).
New loan deals for Wakefield Trinity’s talented teenagers Luke Hooley and Lee Kershaw have further strengthened a squad that has turned over Keighley Cougars, Newcastle and Hemel at home and Workington Town and West Wales Raiders away in its last five league outings.
The acquisition of full-back Hooley on a season-long loan, even though Trinity can trigger a call-back clause after the first month, is a clear indication that Roughyeds mean business in their quest to get back up to the Championship as quickly as possible.
Sunday’s third v fourth battle will be hugely relevant in the promotion stakes.
With that at the forefront of his thinking, head coach Naylor is delighted to find himself in a position to field his strongest 17, picking from a squad that is virtually injury free plus the possibility of dual-reg options as well.
Out of his own 25-strong squad he has only prop-forward Adam Neal currently out injured.
That leaves him with 24 in the selection mix, not to mention dual-reg possibilities from Salford Red Devils.
He was given a further boost this week when in-form back-rower Danny Bridge learned that the RFL’s match review panel considered his yellow card at West Wales Raiders sufficient punishment for alleged use of knees in a tackle.
Bridge will be free, therefore, to continue his exciting second-row partnership with the form man of the entire season so far, Danny Langtree.
Said an upbeat Naylor:
“The new deals for for two Trinity lads mean we now have enormous competition for places. Everybody is under pressure.
“Only Adam Neal is on the sick list and if we have dual-reg options as well we will be going into the Doncaster game as strong as we possibly can be.”
Diehard fans have taken to social media and message forums to assure more casual supporters that Roughyeds are well worth a visit at the revamped Vestacare Stadium.
“Massive game on Sunday. It would be nice for the lads to get a good crowd in. They’re on a winning streak, playing good rugby — and there’s a cracking clubhouse too.”
“The side certainly deserves more people watching”.
And a third ventured:
“We need to persuade the people of Oldham and its environs that there’s some fun to be had on Sunday afternoons down Whitebank Road.”
Doncaster’s fortunes to date have run almost parallel with how Oldham have fared.
Both have won seven and lost three and the difference on points for and against is marginal, Oldham having the edge but with a difference of only 11 points.
Of the five clubs on 14 points — how tight is that ? — Oldham command third spot overall because they have the best for-and-against record.
Then come, in this order, Doncaster, Workington, Keighley and Whitehaven.
The Oldham-Doncaster game was originally scheduled for last week, but the Vestacare Stadium was unavailable, so it was put back seven days to this weekend which hosts the quarter-finals of the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup.
Both teams, therefore, go into the game after a fortnight’s rest.
Last time out, in-form Roughyeds won 74-0 at bottom club West Wales Raiders while Donny slipped to a surprise 35-16 home defeat by Hunslet.
Said coach Richard Horne:
“We gave away too many silly penalties and we didn’t put their big guys down. We ran out of energy because of all the defending we had to do.
“They had the upper hand and we can’t let that kind of thing happen again.”
A few days later he went out and acquired the services on a month’s loan of Hull FC’s 20-year old prop Lewis Bienek, once described by Hull boss Lee Radford as “one of the best front-row prospects in the British game.”
It’s all building up nicely . . .