Big-match preview

SOMETHING has to give in the South Leeds Stadium on Sunday (3.30pm kick-off) in a Betfred League 1 top-four clash that will mean a lot to both Hunslet and Oldham.

Hunslet have won their last five, beating West Wales Raiders, Whitehaven and Coventry Bears at home and Doncaster and London Skolars away.

Their last defeat was 24-26 against high-flying York City Knights at home on May 6.

Oldham’s last defeat, significantly, was way back on April 8 at the Vestacare Stadium when Hunslet stormed home on a wet sail with 18 unanswered points to win 24-16 after trailing 16-6 midway through the second half.

It was the first meeting of the two clubs since the 2014 Grand Final in which Oldham were heart-broken by Thomas Coyle’s golden-point extra-time drop goal that earned Hunslet a 17-16 win — and promotion.

Oldham, indeed, owe ’em one . . . or even two or three !

Scott Naylor is still smarting from his side’s demise on April 8 when a long-range kick return by Jimmy Watson sparked Hunslet’s late surge to cancel out two tries by Dave Hewitt, another by Danny Langtree and two goals by Paul Crook.

Strong-running winger Niall Walker, whose two tries were pivotal to Hunslet’s triumph, is injured and won’t be playing on Sunday.

Another try-scorer and top performer that day, club captain Duane Straugheir, is doubtful with a hamstring injury.

Also doubtful is prop Aiden Hema (knee), but Zach Braham (hamstring) could be back.

Centre Nathan Chappell, whom Oldham know well, didn’t play in the last Oldham-Hunslet clash but he and his winger, David Foggin-Johnston, scored five tries between them against Coventry last week with Chappell grabbing a hat-trick.

While that was happening on Hunslet’s right edge, Danny Bridge was also completing a hat-trick on Oldham’s left side so what happens on that side of the field on Sunday could have a large bearing on the outcome.

Despite last Sunday’s wins against London Skolars and Coventry Bears respectively, rival coaches Naylor and Gary Thornton will each be looking for improved performances.

Said Naylor:

“Hunslet were the last team to beat us and that’s something we’ve been talking about for a while. They deserved to win at our place, coming back strongly from 16-6 down, but we’re looking forward to the opportunity to try to put that right.

“Both teams are on form, used to winning and feeling pretty confident.

“It’s good team versus good team so we expect a close game that will be tough, physical and very intense.

“From our perspective we are certainly a different side than we were early in the season, The lads are now used to each other, used to the way we play and used to all our structures.

“Whatever the outcome it should be a cracking game.”

Oldham will draw tremendous self-belief from their eight wins on the bounce against Keighley Cougars, Newcastle Thunder, Hemel Stags, Doncaster and Skolars at home and against Workington Town, West Wales Raiders and Coventry Bears away.

Their only away defeat all season was at Bradford Bulls and they will take great heart especially from wins on the road at Whitehaven and Workington in Betfred League 1 and at Halifax in the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup.

Moreover, they have the second best defensive record in the division, having conceded only 150 points across the 13 games that formed the first half of the league season.

That’s an average of 11 and a half points per game against Hunslet’s average of just under 21 and a half.

It’s all down to performance on the day, of course, rather than statistics, and it will be an emotional day for everyone at the South Leeds Stadium given that it will be a ‘Celebration Day’ in memory of Geoff Gunney MBE.

Geoff, who died recently, was a Hunslet legend, as our older fans will know.

A brilliant forward, he played an astonishing 579 games for the club between 1951 and 1973 and when the original Hunslet club folded he was largely instrumental in the formation of New Hunslet.

‘Mr Hunslet’, as he became known, was hugely respected not only in south Leeds but across the city and beyond, to wherever rugby league was played all over the world.

Sunday’s match-day programme will be dedicated to him and, pre-match, there will be a minute’s applause.

Roger Halstead



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