WIN or lose, Oldham’s promotion decider against Newcastle Thunder at the Vestacare Stadium on Sunday (3pm) is bound to be an emotional affair.
It will be head coach Scott Naylor’s last game in charge after seven years at the club and he would love nothing better than to sign off by seeing Roughyeds return to the Betfred Championship.
Coincidence or not, Naylor’s men have won each of their six games since the boss announced his pending departure, at the end of the season, before the game at London Skolars on August 3.
In so doing they finished second to Whitehaven in Betfred League 1 and then beat Doncaster 22-12 at home in a play-off tie to go straight through to Sunday’s final which will be played at the Vestacare Stadium as Oldham’s reward for finishing the regular season on top of the play-off group.
Newcastle lost at home to Doncaster in their first play-off tie, then beat Workington at home in the next round to set up another home clash against Doncaster for the right to meet Oldham away in the final.
They coasted to an easy 34-4 win snd now look forward to Sunday’s final at Oldham where Roughyeds have not been beaten since Hunslet won there in mid-April.
In the league, Oldham lost 28-22 on Tyneside but won 28-20 at home on August 11 — scores which reflect how close they are and how difficult it is to forecast Sunday’s outcome.
Club chairman Chris Hamilton is sure of one thing; the Roughyeds players will give everything in their efforts to send off their boss on a high.
They’ve won ten of their last 11, including the home win against Thunder in the regular fixtures, and since going down 31-0 at Doncaster on June 9 they’ve been beaten only once and that was a 16-10 reverse at champions Whitehaven, who go up automatically.
“Every player will be busting a gut for Scott on Sunday, of that I’ve no doubt.”
Several aspects of the final are intriguing, none more so than how Oldham stop Thunder left-centre Kieran Gill, who’s well known to the home side’s players and fans, having had two spells here on loan from Castleford Tigers earlier in his career.
Since then he’s had major knee surgery and has moved up to Tyneside where he has become a Geordie hero thanks to his outstanding try-scoring feats.
He’s scored 28 tries in all competitions this season to smash Thunder’s tries-in-a-season record that has stood for 20 years.
And his 26 League 1 tries make him the division’s top try scorer by a country mile — by seven, in fact, from second-placed Gareth Potts, the Hunslet winger.
Interestingly, one of the Oldham players who will be charged with keeping an eye on Gill is right-side second-rower Danny Langtree, who will be assisting right-centre Zack McComb.
‘Langers’ can really hurt ’em in the tackle, but he’ll also be out to add to his own try-scoring figures, given that no other forward has scored as many League 1 tries this year as the Oldham star’s 17 in all competitions.
Sixteen of those were in league games and the only players to score more were all backs — Gill (26), Potts (19) and Rob Massam of North Wales Crusaders (18).
So there you have it; it could go either way; it should be a cracker; and Roughyeds will be out to stop Thunder’s backs, to boss the show in the forwards and to give Naylor the perfect send-off.
Will he be in seventh heaven come Sunday night ?