Big test at Skolars

OLDHAM go to London Skolars on Saturday (3pm), knowing that if they win their last five Betfred League 1 affairs they will be guaranteed at least a second-place finish.

Newcastle Thunder, currently second with one point more than Roughyeds, come to the Vestacare Stadium on Sunday week, August 11 for a showdown that is likely to determine which of the two finishes as title runners-up.

Leaders Whitehaven are not yet home and dry but with a four-point lead and only four games still to go you wouldn’t want to bet against them going up as champions.

While Roughyeds could still finish top mathematically, the realistic conclusion is that they will do well to finish second, given that four of their remaining five games are against opponents challenging to finish in the play-offs.

They play Skolars away this Saturday, then face two absolutely crucial home games against Newcastle on Sunday, August 11 and fourth-placed Doncaster on Sunday, August 18 before going to Coventry on September 1 and bringing down the curtain on the regular campaign at fifth-placed Hunslet on September 8.

They’re gearing up to make the two games in mid-August at the Vestacare Stadium as contests of special meaning and importance both on the field and in the wider community.

More of that later. For now, suffice to say that a win in Wood Green, N22 on Saturday afternoon, in the heart of Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal territory, would go a long way to setting things up nicely for the two massive home games to follow.

Scott Naylor’s men gave Skolars six of the best in caning them 34-4 at home in March, but the Londoners came good after that and at one time hit the lofty heights of second place — their highest position for years.

They’ve slipped down to seventh now and coach Jermaine Coleman has challenged his men to rediscover their earlier form as he seeks to steer them into the play-offs.

The Londoners have won once in their last six outings since a three-week break at the end of May and the beginning of June halted their progress.

Said Coleman:

“The break didn’t do us any favours. We lost some consistency and it was almost like coming back in and starting a second season.

“Some of my lads found that really difficult, so we need to find our feet again — and quickly.”

Oddly enough, Oldham go to the New River Stadium after a similar three-week lay-off. They last played when beating North Wales Crusaders in mid-July and have since had two free weekends, one after another.

Naylor is confident that the break for his lads will do more good than harm, but he regards Skolars as one of the biggest and most physical sides in the league and he acknowledges that Roughyeds will have to be at their best.

He said:

“It’s a long journey down there and then they always make it tough for you. But we’ve rested up; we’ve prepared well; we’ve had a team-bonding session; and we’re ready to go.”

Winger Kyran Johnson is back to fitness after a nine-week absence with a broken jaw and Naylor is hopeful that Anthony Bowman might be okay after a knee injury.

Either Lee Kershaw, Harry Aaronson or Johnson will be up against Newcastle and former Oldham winger Mo Agoro, whose loan deal with Skolars has been extended to the end of the season.

Agoro has been a handful for Oldham more than once since leaving Roughyeds and joining Hunslet several years ago and he will again be out to cause some damage in this one.


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