CLASSY Oldham excelled on attack and defence in the second half to beat Newcastle Thunder 28-20 and to hit second place in Betfred League 1 with three to play.
It was a second-half masterclass by the revved-up Roughyeds who were 20-6 down after half an hour, got back in the game to trail 20-12 at half-time and then thrilled their fans with their best 40 minutes of the season.
Thunder didn’t get a look-in after half-time, failing to score while the home side rattled up 16 points, which made it 22 unanswered points in total from the moment Danny Bridge scored the first of his two tries, goaled by Paul Crook, three minutes before half-time.
Little did we know then what an impact that try would make, not only putting the jitters up Newcastle but providing the inspiration for Roughyeds to step up a couple of gears and go for the jugular.
“We were upbeat at half-time. An eight-point deficit didn’t faze us in the slightest. We were revved-up and we felt that if we could score first in the second half we’d be on our way,” said club captain Gareth Owen.
Thunder were 12 points up inside quarter of an hour with tries by Quentin Laulu-Togagae and Conor Fitzsimmons, both goaled by Rhys Clarke.
Kyran Johnson pulled back a try for Roughyeds which Paul Crook converted superbly from the left touchline.
Thunder’s replay was quick and ruthless, first Kieran Gill intercepting a wide ball from Paul Crook to go the length of the field (shades of what he used to do in his Oldham days) and then, within ten minutes, left-wing Alex Clegg crossing in the corner after more damage created by QLT and Gill.
Losing 20-6 at that stage, things didn’t look good for Roughyeds but on reflection it wasn’t the sort of game that you thought was beyond rescue.
Oldham’s middle unit had, at the very least, matched Thunder’s big men up front and considering the score they had spent very little time camped out in Roughyeds territory.
Scott Naylor’s men edged the territorial battle, in fact, and probably spent more time at Thunder’s end of the field than did Thunder at the Roughyeds end.
The visitors dominated the scoring, but little else.
Two of their four first-half tries were the direct result of uncharacteristic one-on-one missed tackles deep inside the Oldham half and another was Gill’s length-of-the-field interception which again turned defence into attack for the visitors.
Credit them with the pace and the polish to capitalise on errors and go the full distance — like London in the previous game — but they didn’t dominate Oldham’s forwards or, indeed, the battle for territorial supremacy. They also had first use of a strong wind.
Nevertheless, trailing by 14 points, Oldham knew a try before half-time would be worth its weight in gold.
Earlier, Matty Wilkinson had chipped to the corner and Johnson flew up the wing to get the touchdown, Paul Crook then converting brilliantly off the touchline.
Wilkinson, who was at the heart of everything Oldham did well on attack, then produced a similar grubber in the 38th minute. It ricocheted off a defender’s leg and into the path of the onrushing Bridge, who picked up at full speed to go over.
Crook goaled; 12-20; wind advantage to come; game on.
In Oldham’s first set from the restart there was a sample of what was to come.
Zack McComb got round his marker on the outside — how often do we see an outside break from a centre these days — only to fall to a desperate ankle tap as he looked like motoring clear.
Then Wilkinson put Emmerson Whittel away only to be hauled back for a forward pass.
You could sense that Oldham now had the measure of their second-placed opponents and sure enough they scored a brilliant try when Wilkinson went wide to Johnson, who put the ball back inside for Cameron Leeming to crash over.
Crook’s conversion passed narrowly wide but at 16-20 Oldham were on top and looking like a side that should have been on top of the league.
Under the force of Oldham’s bombardment, Thunder conceded back-to-back penalties and the inevitable happened when Dave Hewitt took on the defence to provide the barnstorming Bridge with his second try.
Crook goaled to put Roughyeds in front for the first time at 22-20 with an hour gone.
As they pressed forward for more, Liam Bent went close to breaking clear up the middle and then Hewitt made inroads to create a fifth try, this one scored by Owen, who had replaced Wilkinson off the bench a minute or two earlier.
Crook added the goal for a 28-20 lead and with the clock running down Oldham then had some serious defending to do on their own line; a task they performed with great tenacity and endeavour.
The thrill-a-minute clash ended with Thunder prop Joel Edwards held on the line and, further out, Johnson pulling off a low and hard textbook tackle to push Samoan winger Misi Taulapapa into touch at the corner flag.
Bridge had a blinder, as did Wilkinson and Ritchie Hawkyard. Not far behind were Danny Langtree, who had a strong second half, Hewitt, Phil Joy, Scott Law and Emmerson Whittel on a huge day for Roughyeds and their promotion aspirations.
Oldham scorers: goals, Crook 4/5; tries, Johnson, Bridge (2), Leeming, Owen.
Team: Hawkyard, Aaronson, McComb, Leeming, Johnson; Crook, Hewitt; Joy, Owen, Law, Bridge, Langtree, Bent; Subs: Smith, Wilkinson, Whitttel, Beckett.
Referee: Matt Rossleigh; att: 702