OUR hopes of play-off qualification took a huge blow when we were beaten 24-18 at Newcastle Thunder — our fourth defeat in the last five away games.
We looked to have the game locked up when we led 18-6 with quarter of an hour left, but Thunder caught us out by scoring three converted tries in 13 minutes to leave us shell-shocked.
They had three outstanding players in winger Mo Agoro, French international scrum-half Remy Marginet and two-try full-back Theerapol Ritson, whose combined contribution to a tight contest ultimately made all the difference.
For an hour the home side tried to match Roughyeds at their own forward-dominated game and were clearly coming off second best as the visitors scored tries by Liam Bent, Lee Kershaw and Luke Nelmes, all converted by Paul Crook, to seemingly put the game under lock and key.
All Thunder had to show at that stage was a first-half try by former Oldham player Agoro, whose strength in possession and willingness to help out his forwards caused us a lot of problems.
We opened the scoring in the seventh minute when Bent got over on a Gareth Owen pass from dummy half after a defence-splitting break by Kyran Johnson.
Kershaw was pushed into touch at the corner flag as we continued to dominate, but there was perhaps a sign of things to come when Ritson’s pace and elusive running out wide led to Agoro’s equalising try midway through the half.
Oldham continued to dominate an arm-wrestle of a first half and Matty Wilkinson was held up over the line after a period of sustained Roughyeds pressure on the back of two penalties and strong drives and quick play-the-balls by Nelmes and Danny Langtree.
Just before half-time another penalty for holding down gave Roughyeds a chance to go back in front but Crook’s long-range attempt at goal passed narrowly wide.
There was then another hint of things to come when a lapse of concentration allowed Thunder to find touch with the restart kick.
On that occasion they were not clinical enough to capitalise and the half ended at 6-6, Rughyeds forwards having dominated proceedings for most of the half while playing against a deceptively-strong wind.
The second half began with Ritson going clear, only to be pulled back for a previous obstruction.
Oldham responded positively when props Adam Neal and Ben Davies used the ball intelligently to give Matty Reid room to move down the left-centre channel.
With Agoro on his back, he made a determined bid for the line. Although stopped short, the big centre had got the home defence in total disarray and from the play-the-ball Kershaw spotted the gap and surged through to score.
Soon afterwards another strong drive by Neal had Thunder on the back foot and Wilkinson moved sweetly from dummy half to send Nelmes crashing in on a flat pass.
Crook converted both tries and at 18-6 we looked in total control.
Stunned, Thunder immediately recalled their starting props, Harry and Jack Aldous, and loose-forward Sam Luckley.
Agoro’s try-saving tackle on Langtree prevented us going even further ahead, but the longer the game went on the more mistakes we made in possession.
Instead of consolidating we erred on numerous
occasions, thus giving Thunder the possession and field position with which to get back into the game.
In key play-maker Marginet they had just the man to take advantage and as the clock ticked down towards the last quarter of an hour he began to tease and torment Roughyeds with a clever and varied kicking game.
It was almost as if Thunder knew they had nothing to lose by changing tactics and going wider to make the most of Marginet’s kicking ability and Ritson’s speed and elusive running into space.
It was, however, a long cross-kick by the Frenchman’s half-back ally, Adam Brooks, which paved the way for Ritson’s first try in the corner.
Marginet goaled off the touchline and at 18-12, Thunder were back in the game.
They immediately stunned Roughyeds again with a wide break on the visitors left edge and Marginet followed up on the inside to take winger Ben Dent’s inside pass and scamper away to the line before converting his own try from right of the posts.
At 18-18 with 13 minutes left the momentum was all with Thunder, but Roughyeds forced an error only 20 metres out and, from the scrum, had the opportunity to respond.
They failed to do so. It took desperate Thunder defence to keep out the visitors in the early part of the set, but they failed to properly set up a drop-goal chance and in the end Crook was under far too much pressure and his hurried kick was wide.
Yet another Oldham mistake in possession then added to the tension, but Langtree’s one-on-one steal came to the rescue.
Back came the home side, with Marginet misfiring on a drop-goal attempt, before the visitors yet again gifted possession to Thunder, who finally made it count.
Ritson, who else, worked his magic wide out on Oldham’s right edge, found some space and raced clear to score the winning try with only two minutes left.
Oldham, it has to be said, had only themselves to blame, albeit Thunder had the game’s two most influential players in Marginet and Ritson.
Newcastle: Ritson; Agoro, Young, Craig, Dent; Brook, Marginet; H Aldous, Simons, J Aldous, Charlton, Ollett, Luckley. Subs: Richmond, Fitzsimmons, Rennie, Blake.
Oldham: Johnson; Eccleston, McComb, Reid, Kershaw; Crook, Hewitt; Spencer, Owen, Joy, Briscoe, Langtree, Bent; Subs: Neal, Wilkinson, Davies, Nelmes.
Ref: C Smith; Att: 749.