ROUGHYEDS had to play to the best of their ability, certainly in the first half, to knock over a vastly-improved Coventry Bears outfit at the Vestacare Stadium.
The home side’s 34-18 win lifted Scott Naylor’s boys to third place in the Betfred League 1 table behind Whitehaven and London Skolars.
Roughyeds remain three points behind them, but with a game in hand on Skolars, who won their fifth league game in a row when beating Doncaster on Saturday.
Coventry came to the Vestacare with all guns blazing after their impressive win over Workington a week earlier and quickly underlined what we already knew —- that Betfred League 1 this year is the most competitive it’s ever been.
For 20 minutes it was nip and tuck with little to choose between the sides.
Oldham had an early chance when Danny Langtree managed to flip back a Paul Crook bomb, but Titus Gwaze held on with support on his inside.
Then ‘Langers’ got on the outside shoulder of Bears’ scrum-half Nick Newman only to fall to a try-saving tackle by the Australian.
In a fast, high-charged opening quarter in which play swung from end to end Kam Pearce-Paul was brought back for a forward pass when in the clear before David Hewitt was denied a try by a knock-on at the other end.
Man-of-the-match Langtree, who was to score two of his side’s six tries. took a heavy tackle and required running repairs after delivering a cut-out pass to Kyran Johnson, who was unable to gather it in.
At the other end, Oldham’s defence had to work hard to keep out Bears left-winger Hayden Freeman.
The first three penalties went to Coventry and with Newman leading his side around the field they were lively attackers who posed a definite threat.
The pendulum began to swing Oldham’s way midway through the half when Coventry infringed for the first time and the subsequent Oldham penalty put the visitors on the retreat.
Working his magic from dummy half, Gareth Owen gave Scott Law a pass on the burst and the prop took a posse of defenders over the line with him, only to be held up.
Oldham maintained the momentum from the 10-metre restart and Gwaze produced a superb ball out of the tackle to put Hewitt over for the opening try, which Crook improved.
Oldham were going for the jugular now and after Danny Bridge and Law were both stopped short, the ball was shifted right where Hewitt and Crook handled intelligently to send the powerful Langtree over for his first try.
Leading 10-0, Roughyeds survived a scare when sub Sam Davis made a break only to throw out a poor pass to the supporting Newman, who got his foot to the ball only to see it run dead as he closed in for the kill.
When Oldham responded positively, as both sides did constantly, a fired-up Bears defence got three men into a tackle on the dangerous Zack McComb and pushed him into touch. High Fives all round.
It was that sort of match —- tough, tense, entertaining rugby with both sides going flat out whether attacking or defending.
Something had to give sooner or later and in the last few minutes of the first half it was Coventry who finally cracked under the pressure as Roughyeds added 12 points with tries by Langtree and Matty Wilkinson, which Crook converted to establish a 22-0 interval lead.
If you want to introduce a dummy-half off the bench to expose an opposing ruck rearguard that’s previously been tested and softened-up then Wilkinson’s your man.
Naylor times his introduction of will o’ the wisp Wilkinson to perfection and this time was no exception as the scrum-capped former Leigh man jumped out of dummy-half to send in Langtree before scoring himself when he exposed a Bears vulnerability up the short side.
Crook added the extras in each case, one of them off the touchline, to send home fans in for their pies and pints in confident mood.
We soon discovered, though, that these Bears were not done yet.
Continuing to play good, strong rugby with Newman, Davis, Conroy, Sherratt and Barrett to the fore, they scored a lovely try by centre Kam Pearce-Paul which Newman goaled.
It inspired Danny Bridge to go in at the other end , off Wilkinson again, with Crook adding the goal.
Coventry wouldn’t go away though, not even when the home side was committed to all-out attack.
When a Crook grubber ricocheted all over the place, Coventry’s Davis was quickest to react. He took possession, saw a gap, and sent his full-back Elliott Hall through it.
The full-back had enough pace to go the length of the pitch with Hewitt in hot pursuit to register his side’s second try, which Newman converted.
By this time defences had lost a little of their earlier venom, as witnessed when the hard-working, industrious Ritchie Hawkyard went through to score out wide. Crook’s goal made it 34-12.
In the last few minutes, and for the second time in the match, the Bears again caught out Oldham with a counter-attack from distance.
Hooker Conroy opened up the home defence with an old-fashioned chip over the top; regathered when he seemed to almost take it out of Harry Maders’s hands; and put the ball inside to Davis for the Bears’ third and final try.
Oldham were worthy winners on the strength of their excellent first half performance, while Coventry can take great solace in the fight they put up to make ground in a tough, tough division.
Tries: Hewitt (22), Langtree (26.37), Wilkinson (39), Bridge (54), Hawkyard (70); Goals: Crook 5/6.
Team: Hawkyard; Johnson, McComb, Holmes, Maders; Crook, Hewitt; Spencer, Owen, Law, Bridge, Langtree, Gwaze. Subs: Davies, Wilkinson, Whittel, Calland.
Ref, B Milligan; Att: 451.