OLDHAM didn’t only beat and ‘nil’ Whitehaven at the Vestacare Stadium . . . they produced a tough and hugely professional performance that massively raised hopes and expectations of play-off qualification.
In winning 20-0, to follow up their 14-0 triumph at Whitehaven on the opening day of the season, they played with the verve and vigour that earned them eight wins in a row earlier this summer.
Defence was awesome, and Roughyeds’ total domination of a tough and physically demanding contest reduced the Cumbrians to a sad and sorry version of the outfit that won six games on the bounce before they took a hiding at Bradford Bulls.
Like Oldham, they tackled and defended with plenty of venom.
Unlike Oldham, they couldn’t extricate themselves from their opponents’ vice-like grip and they rarely threatened the home line apart from one occasion when Carl Forster was held up in-goal and another, near the end, when Dion Aiye dropped the ball with the line at his mercy.
In stark contrast, Roughyeds crossed for three excellent tries by Craig Briscoe and David Hewitt in the first half and by Danny Langtree late in the game, all converted by Paul Crook.
Individually, the forwards won the battle up front collectively with the “middles”, as they are called these days, getting the better of their opponents thanks to the relentless and awesome driving of Adam Neal, Jack Spencer, Phil Joy, Liam Bent, Ben Davies and Luke Nelmes.
As expected, Neal came off the bench to lead from the front in his first home game since April and to demonstrate what Roughyeds have been missing during his long injury absence.
These were the men who laid down the foundation for halves Paul Crook and Dave Hewitt and for dummy-halves Gareth Owen and Matty Wilkinson to control things and make all the difference between three tries and none.
Oldham’s authority was all the more impressive, given that at one stage they were 8-2 down on the penalty count. The balance swung the other way in the second half and finished 10-7 in Whitehaven’s favour.
Hewitt went in for his 12th try of the season after playing a key role in the opening try by Briscoe.
His half-back partner Crook, who scored two tries at Hemel, went close on a couple of occasions here, both half-backs displaying an appetite for taking on the defensive line and having a crack at scoring.
Together, their kicking games also ensured that Roughyeds kept Haven at their end of the field, especially in the second half when the home side was sitting comfortably on a 12-0 lead.
Behind his dominant pack, Wilkinson was electric out of dummy half.
In the backs, full-back Kyran Johnson had a great game, sound under the high ball and often threatening on his speedy kick returns.
Centre Zack McComb and wing Lee Kershaw also showed up well as Roughyeds dominated all over the park.
In the extremely physical early clashes an incident was placed on report when Owen was laid out off the ball. He was able to continue after treatment.
Shortly after that he was replaced by Wilkinson, who capitalised on a quick play-the-ball by Nelmes to find Hewitt, whose cleverly-delayed pass sent Briscoe on his way to the line.
A few minutes later a long midfield break by Kershaw paved the way for Wilkinson to send in Hewitt after he had used quick feet to evade a strong, last-ditch tackle.
The second-half continued to be a tough arm-wrestle, but Oldham always looked the more likely side to score.
They finally did it again in the 77th minute when Langtree went in for his 18th try of the year, thus becoming the club’s highest-scoring forward in any one season since Oldham RLFC (1997) Ltd was established 21 years ago.
At 18-0, Roughyeds were home and dry, but a penalty in the last minute by Crook made it 20-0. Mission accomplished. Job well done.
Team: Johnson; Eccleston, McComb, Reid, Kershaw; Crook, Hewitt; Spencer, Owen, Joy, Briscoe, Langtree, Bent. Subs: Neal, Wilkinson, Davies, Nelmes.
Whitehaven: Phillips; D Thompson, Taylor, Mossop, Burns; Howarth, Abram; Shackley, Tilley, J Thompson, Aiye, Gillam, Forster. Subs: Coward, Eaves, Holliday, Jessie Joe Parker.
Referee: S Race; Att: 413.