A fast and experienced back division spearheaded by Samoan internationals Quentin Laulu-Togagae and Misi Taulapapa, not to mention a certain Kieran Gill, will pose the biggest threat to Oldham in tomorrow’s (Sunday) big game at the Vestacare Stadium.
Backed by an organisation with plenty of money, Thunder underpinned their commitment to going flat out for promotion this year by taking Denis Betts to Tyneside as director of rugby, recruiting Toronto Wolfpack No 2 Simon Finnigan as head coach and, on the departure of on-loan half-back starlet Mikey Lewis back to Hull KR, going out to replace him with the highly-regarded Quentin Laulu-Togagae, or QLT as he is affectionately known.
He’s played most of his career with Sheffield Eagles, Toronto and Halifax at full-back but he’ll go at half-back with Thunder with whom he teams up once again with his Samoan international pal Misi Taulapapa, a winger who has played 33 games in the NRL with Cronulla Sharks and more than 230 with Sheffield and Featherstone.
Centre Gill, who scored four tries against West Wales last week, will make a sentimental return to the Vestacare and to a club for which he has played a lot of games while on loan in the past.
Judging by their 19-man squad, Thunder will line up practically the same as they did last week, if not exactly the same.
Dan Coates and Conor Fitzsimmons replace Matty Wright and Aaron Ollett in the 19, but as Wright didn’t play last week and Ollett was on the bench it looks like Thunder will be much the same as they were in Llanelli last time out.
They will name their 17 from these: Harry Aldous, Jared Blanke, Joe Brown, Keal Carlile, Rhys Clarke, Alex Clegg, Dan Coates, Carne Doyle-Manga. Joel Edwards, Conor Fitsimmons, Kieran Gill, Sam Luckley, Liam McAvoy, Muizz Mustapha, Nick Newman, QLT, Evan Simons, Misi Taulapapa, Lewis Young.
Oldham will name their 19 after they have had the Captain’s Run this morning.
Forecasting a “a nail-biter” — his words — Thunder’s Sam Lukley said:
“Oldham have everything to play for, as have we, and we’re expecting an aggressive game up the middle.
“It’s a tight pitch at the Vestacare and on the day it will go down to the best middles.”
Thunder won 28-22 at Kingston Park in April, but Roughyeds were leading into the second half and they believe they can avenge that defeat this time and move into second place in the table.
Said coach Scott Naylor:
“We’ve got to be at our best but we could and should have beaten them up there and now we’re on our own pitch and that’s got to count for something.
“We’ll have to play well, complete our sets, work hard defensively and try to keep them under pressure at their end of the pitch.
“We can’t sit back and let them come at us; we’ve got to try to command the territorial battle and apply pressure on them.”