OLDHAM climbed from fifth to third in Betfred League 1 albeit only temporarily, after a comprehensive 72-8 win against West Wales Raiders at a freakishly windy Stebonheath Park in Llanelli.
A 17-man squad that showed five changes and was without the likes of Aaron Jones-Bishop, Phil Joy, Ben Calland, Ben Davies, Matty Wilkinson and Anthony Bowman, some of whom were injured, scored 14 tries and provided coach Scott Naylor with what he had demanded — an 80-minute team performance, full of professionalism from start to finish.
Notwithstanding that Roughyeds will meet much tougher, more experienced and more street-wise outfits in the weeks and months to come, starting with Whitehaven’s visit to the Vestacare Stadium this coming Sunday, May 5, in the first round of the new 1895 Cup, club captain Gareth Owen hit the nail on the head post-match when he said:
“After the disappointment of the Hunslet result, and the meeting with chairman Chris Hamilton, we were looking for a big response and we certainly got that.
“We’ll face tougher battles, obviously, but the feeling in the dressing room, even before today, was that we can put recent setbacks behind us and kick on from here.”
Danny Langtree’s second appearance since his return from Hull FC coincided with his 150th senior game for the club and, as coach Scott Naylor remarked afterwards, it was good to see both Langtree and Danny Bridge back on the field together for the first time in nine months.
They reformed their old second-row partnership, Bridge back for the first time since clearing his nine-month RFL suspension and, for the most part, looking as though he had never been away.
Each marked their special occasions with a try, Bridge in the first half when he chased and touched down a chip into the Raiders in-goal area and Langtree late in the game when he cantered to the line unopposed after threatening similar breakaways on several occasions earlier.
“It was good to be back,” said Bridge. “I’m just glad to get this first one out of the way.”
To say it was his first run-out since last July, he did remarkably well, his sometimes exquisite distribution making life good for his left-side allies Jack Holmes and Harry Maders, who each scored twice.
The backs scored nine of the 14 tries through full-back Ritchie Hawkyard (2), centres Holmes (2) and Zack McComb (2), left-wing Maders (2) and stand-off Paul Crook.
The forwards chipped in with the other five from loose-forward Liam Bent (2) and one apiece by second-row pair Bridge and Langtree and young prop Titus Gwaze.
Tackling-machine Bent, known more for his sterling defensive graft than his attacking prowess, was made up to have two tries on the board in the first ten minutes, one either side of a touchdown in the corner by Harry Maders.
Gareth Owen put him in for the first from dummy-half and Dave Hewitt laid on his second.
“I don’t score a lot of tries, so I’m going to milk these,” said a joyful Bent.
Paul Crook kicked eight conversions from 13 attempts, the other one from Dave Hewitt getting blown way off target by a fierce westerly which had battered South Wales for at least 24 hours.
It made goalkicking especially difficult from wide out and as a lot of Oldham’s tries followed swift transfers through the hands, both left and right to bring in the backs and create overlaps on the flanks, Crook failed to improve five times (unusually for him) and on several occasions struggled to place the ball on the tee, requiring assistance from a ‘holding’ team mate on at least two occasions.
A feature of the first half, when Roughyeds scored nine tries while playing into the gale, was Raiders’ full-back Phil Cowburn’s clever use of the elements on restart kicks.
He had plenty of those to do but with the wind behind him he he thumped the ball hard and low so that, even with Oldham defenders deployed as deep as possible, the ball bounced high off the hard surface, went dead and forced the visitors to drop out.
We’ve seen Oldham-born Cowburn, who used to be a mad-keen Roughyeds mascot as a boy, employ similar tactics at the Vestacare in the past, but never with the success he enjoyed here.
Oldham were forced to return possession to Raiders on three occasions at least in the first half.
In the second half, when Oldham added another five tries, Raiders restarted equally well into the wind, always putting the ball over the ten but often winning it back as the wind conjured up all sorts of problems for the receiving side.
“That happened at least three times as well, so we lost a lot of possession that, on any other day, would have been ours. To score 14 tries, despite that, was pretty good.”
The score took Oldham’s points difference from 38 to 102 — a statistic that will have to be monitored closely throughout the season because it will probably be decisive in the final shake-up of league positions.
It was a pity Raiders scored twice, but that they deserved for an overall performance that was considerably stronger than anything we have seen previously on recent visits down there.
The first, by centre Rowland Kaye, was the direct result of a speculative kick, but the second was an excellent team try in which the finishing touches were provided by full-back Cowburn, whose link-up and clever inside ball produced a strong finish by centre Pat Jennings.
Players and staff had a long, tiring day in which they left the Vestacare at 8am and arrived back at 11.30pm after a 500-mile round trip, a game of rugby in freakish conditions and about 11 hours in total on the road.
Not a minute together was wasted, Ritchie Hawkyard and his music machine making sure the long drive home was put to good use as a team-bonding exercise.
RAIDERS: Cowburn; Baker, Jennings, Kay, Sabour; Rice-Wilson, Hunt; Desmond-Walker, Bateman, Herron, Snook, Connor, Maiden. Subs: Evans, Shallish, Rowlands, Mulkeen.
OLDHAM: Hawkyard; Johnson, McComb, Holmes, Maders; Crook, Hewitt; Spencer, Owen, Law, Bridge, Langtree, Bent. Subs: Morris, Whittel, Greenwood, Gwaze.
Referee: B Robinson.