FOR the second game in a row, red (and white) hot Oldham produced promotion form to finish impressive winners against genuine rivals for ending the season on Betfred League 1’s honours board.
First it was high-flying Newcastle Thunder, sent back to Tyneside well chastened by a 28-20 defeat.
Then came Doncaster and Rangi Chase, whacked 40-14 despite going into the game at the Vestacare Stadium with the meanest defence in the division and having twice previously lowered Roughyeds colours this season.
This is a different Oldham side than it was back then — not in personnel, but in drive, purpose, self-belief and an enormous appetite to finish the season as high as they can and then see where that takes them.
Matty Beharrell’s absence was a massive blow for Donny. Rangi might be the super star, but Beharrell is the man who makes them tick, the midfield general without whose football brain, vision and ace kicking game Donny looked half the side they were in the two previous encounters.
Was it that ? Or was it something more than Beharrell’s absence that made all the difference?
It was something more. The visitors weren’t helped by the loss of their midfield maestro but, like Newcastle the week before, they were blown away by the sheer intensity of Oldham’s speed at the ruck on the back of quick play-the-ball, plus their willingness and eagerness in defence to stop a bigger set of forwards in their tracks.
Throw in the tactical kicking of Paul Crook and Dave Hewitt (plus their willingness to balance that by running at the Donny defence); man-of-the-match Ritchie Hawkyard’s insatiable appetite for work; and the smart contributions to the team ethic of the outstanding Cameron Leeming, Gareth Owen, Scott Law, Danny Bridge and Danny Langtree and you have the heart-beat of a side that finally looks like fulfilling its potential at exactly the right time.
Chase wasn’t given a chance to display the skills that have had rugby league fans gasping in disbelief across both hemispheres; neither was Jason Tali.
Their coach Richard Horne said pre-match his aim was to control the game. With Roughyeds in this mood it was never going to happen.
“We were given a lesson,” said Donny official Ray Green. He wasn’t wrong.
Roughyeds roared to their seventh win in their last eight outings, scoring seven tries to three and, in truth, probably missing as many as another three gilt-edged chances.
Seven tries, seven wins from eight games; seventh Heaven!
Other points of note:
- The one newcomer, Declan Kay on the right wing, did well on debut, both when tidying up in defence or attacking strongly.
- Phil Joy was, as ever, solid as a rock in his 150th senior game for his home-town club.
- Another local, Gareth Owen, had two brilliant spells at the start of the game and then again in the last quarter.
Donny scored first when right-wing Sam Doherty capitalised on stand-off Jordan Howden’s cross-kick to the corner.
After that Owen took charge. His flat pass from dummy half sent in Liam Bent from close range and Roughyeds were on their way.
Energetic Hawkyard scored next out on the right, but you couldn’t keep Owen quiet for long and it was his break from behind play-the-ball that opened the way for Langtree to score and for Crook to land his third conversion for an 18-4 lead.
On a rare visit to Oldham’s 20-metre zone Doherty scored his second when touching down a clever kick to make it 18-8 at half time.
Donny knew they needed to score first in the second half if they were to stay in the game. They threw everything at Oldham’s line with the advantage of back-to-back sets, but the home defence refused to be breached.
Then, at the other end, Langtree slipped his markers in a crowded defence with the sweetest of dummies and Crook got with him on the inside to cross unopposed.
By now Matty Wilkinson had replaced Owen and it was the former’s explosive use of the short side that enabled Leeming to chip the ball forward and score his fifth try in seven games.
The sixth try went to Wilkinson on a somewhat fortuitous ricochet of a Langtree grubber, but the seventh was a real beaut.
Owen’s clever hands from the back of the play-the-ball sent Law close and the prop returned the compliment with a peach of a pass for a delighted Owen to go behind the posts.
Scorers: Oldham — goals, Crook 6/7; tries, Bent, Hawkyard, Langtree, Crook, Leeming, Wilkinson, Owen; Doncaster: goal, Howden 1/2; tries, Doherty (2), Spiers.
OLDHAM:Hawkyard; Kay, McComb, Leeming, Johnson; Crook, Hewitt; Joy, Owen, Law, Bridge, Langtree, Bent. Subs: Smith, Wilkinson, Whittel, Beckett.
DONCASTER: Owen; Doherty, Bower, Tali, Chromes; Howden, Chase; Spiers, Kesik, Scott, Foster, Hodgson, Hedges; Subs: Boas, Brown, Boyle, Mariano.
Referee: John McMullen; Att: 745.