GET your money on Liam Bent to be a long-odds man of the match in Oldham RL Club’s promotion decider against big-spending Newcastle Thunder at the Vestacare Stadium on Sunday.
Tackling-machine ‘Benty’, who regularly turns in 40 tackles a game and has been known to top an astonishing 60, was a surprise winner of the Supporters’ player-of-the-year award at the end of last season.
Headline-hitting Danny Langtree, currently the most prolific forward try-scorer in Betfred League 1, cleaned up most of the other awards and then moved up the ladder to join Super League outfit Hull FC on a two-year, full-time contract.
By Easter he was back, thanks to Hull’s goodwill in agreeing to release him from his contract.
He has since formed a second-row partnership with Danny Bridge that Roughyeds believe is the best in League 1.
Langtree, Bridge, full-back Ritchie Hawkyard, centre Cameron Leeming and utility forward Emmerson Whittel are all going to be “go to” players who most fans will expect to take the final by storm.
There are some equally proven match-winners in the Newcastle side — centre Kieran Gill, who isn’t happy if he doesn’t get a try hat-trick; full-back Lewis Young and winger Alex Clegg, who are all in the division’s top seven try scorers.
But rival coaches Scott Naylor and Simon Finnigan are together in their belief that the side that goes up to the Championship will be the one that has the better defence, is more structured and is able to complete its sets and keep in the good books of experienced referee Gareth Hewer.
Oldham, especially, know the dimensions of Vestacare’s 4G pitch like the back of their hands.
They haven’t been beaten there since Easter and they’ll be out to dominate Thunder’s forwards up the middle and thus keep to a minimum scoring chances for the likes of Gill, Young and Clegg.
They’ll have to tackle like they’ve never tackled before and that’s where 21-year-old Bent, the ‘baby’ of Oldham’s big-match line-up, will come into his own.
His job isn’t one that normally attracts the headlines or wins individual awards. He isn’t going to go 30 metres up the middle and score a sensational try.
But he’ll tackle, tackle and tackle until opposing forwards and half-back are sick of the sight of him and it’s his leadership by example in defence that could just tip a final that’s too close to call in Oldham’s favour.
“I love tackling. It’s what I’ve always liked about rugby since I started out at Wigan St Jude’s as a boy,”
says Bent, who had 17 games on loan at Oldham from Salford Red Devils in 2017 and then became a fully-fledged Roughyeds forward when Salford released him at the end of that season.
He was devastated to be shown the door by the Super League outfit, but delighted to join Oldham permanently and, in his words, to repay the faith shown in him by head coach Scott Naylor and chairman Chris Hamilton.
In the two seasons since then he has made enough tackles and brought down enough men twice his size to earn the faith and respect of fans, team mates and opponents alike.
He was “over the moon” when the fans voted him their hero a year ago and he will want to repay that twice over by tackling his way into the Championship and at the same time enabling departing boss Naylor to leave the club on a pedestal.