ADAM Neal’s successful comeback in the front-row was the best and biggest of several positives in Oldham’s 60-28 win at Hemel Stags.
Coming off the bench after no more than quarter of an hour, he looked as though he had never been absent.
He made huge yards on the drive, off-loaded well and was involved in the build-up to several tries on a day when Roughyeds fans could clearly see what the pack had been missing during his three-month lay-off with the after-effects of concussion.
Most importantly of all, he seemed to be enjoying himself — as he confirmed later when he said:
“To be fair, it was a good game in which to make your comeback after such a long time out of it, but I was quietly pleased with it.
“It felt great to be back and, most important of all, I didn’t suffer any adverse reaction. To be honest things couldn’t have gone any better.”
Coach Scott Naylor added:
“It was great to see Adam back in the side. We spoke beforehand about how best to manage his comeback, in terms of how much game time we gave him, and it all worked out well.
“Hopefully, he can kick on from here and go from strength to strength.”
Paul Crook also figured prominently in the feel-good factor by scoring 28 points on his own with ten conversions from ten attempts and a couple of tries to boot.
He needed 11 points to reach the major career milestone of 2,000 points and he got there on the half-hour mark, having landed three conversions by then, plus a 29th-minute try of his own.
The kick was a simple one from underneath the posts and, sure enough, ‘Crooky’ made no mistake to hit his magical target.
He had kicked six conversions, to add to his try, by half-time and in the second half he landed four more goals plus a second try on a day to remember for the former Rochdale half-back.
Danny Langtree, meanwhile, scored two first-half tries to take his total for the season, in cup and league, to 17.
He has now beaten by two the 15 scored by Tommy Goulden in 2008 and thus becomes the most prolific try scorer of all the out-and-out second-rowers Roughyeds have used since the new club was launched for the start of the 1998 campaign.
He didn’t come out for the second half because of a rib complaint, but it was merely a precautionary measure and the post-match update from the dressing room suggested he would be okay for next Sunday.
In terms of play-off qualification there couldn’t be a more important game right now than that between Oldham (4th) and Whitehaven (7th), which is the intriguing fare on offer at the Vestacare Stadium this coming Sunday (3pm kick-off).
Five clubs are split by two points with Oldham, Doncaster, Hunslet and Whitehaven all on 26. How tight is that ?
Club captain Gareth Owen, who was given only minimal game time at Hemel, will be hoping for his 100th Oldham appearance on Sunday — another milestone which will mean a great deal to the locally-born Owen.
While watching from the sidelines at Hemel, Owen saw Matty Wilkinson have a superb game in which he constantly blitzed the home defence with his lightning-like strikes from dummy half.
Hemel’s hard-working defence couldn’t stifle will ‘o’ the wisp Wilkinson, who gave an eye-catching performance.
The first of Lee Kershaw’s two tries was a length-of-the-field effort in which he collected a Stags bomb on his own try line and set off upfield, showing a clean pair of heels to the defence as he bobbed and weaved his way past half a dozen wrong-footed defenders.
It was one of ten Oldham tries scored by Langtree (2), Matt Reid, Dave Hewitt, Paul Crook (2), Jack Spencer, Wilkinson and Kershaw (2).
Dave Hewitt also had an eye-catching game, as did Zack McComb in the backs and Spencer, Danny Rasool, Liam Bent and Luke Nelmes in the forwards.
The down side was to concede 28 points — not a figure you would expect to be scored against a side with one of the best defensive records in Betfred League 1.
Nevertheless, you can credit Hemel for some of that. They scored five tries, three of them in the second half and one of them a real beaut scored over distance by a front-row forward.
Defensively, Oldham know they will have to improve significantly at the weekend against a Whitehaven outfit that can be relied upon to give Roughyeds a thorough examination at the Vestacare Stadium.
Team at Hemel: Johnson; Eccleston, McComb, Reid, Kershaw; Crook, Hewitt; Spencer, Owen, Joy, Rasool, Langtree, Bent. Subs: Nelmes, Davies, Wilkinson, Neal.
Referee: Matthew Rossleigh; Att: 109.