SUNDAY’S pre-season derby clash at Rochdale will herald a fresh start for both clubs in the annals of the traditional and historic Law Cup, writes ROGER HALSTEAD.
It couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time . . . new season, new year, new decade and with both clubs looking for a fresh start in different league competitions, Oldham in the Betfred Championship after their exciting 2019 promotion, Hornets in Betfred League 1 after an ill-fated Championship season with deep-seated problems to overcome off the field and behind the scenes.
There are now definite signs of a bright, new future on the other side of the M62 with a return to private ownership and the arrival of a new board under the direction of former Swinton Lions chief Andy Mazey. But more of that later. What of Oldham?
Stability is, without doubt, one of the Roughyeds’ strong points and one of its greatest assets. Apart from a brief spell when he was chief executive, Chris Hamilton has been in the chair for 23 years.
And in Matt Diskin, Roughyeds have their first new coach in eight years and only their third in 13.
Coincidentally, though, there are other changes too this year with a new assistant coach, Brendan Sheridan; a new conditioner in Tim Abeyie; a new physiotherapist in former Wigan Warriors and Harlequins RL player Chris Melling; and half a dozen new players in James Worthington, Lewis Charnock, John Hutchings, Jode Sheriffe, Dan Abram and Daniel Igbinedion.
A big change off the field too with the arrival of CDX Security, and its managing director John Roddy (a man well established and well known in rugby league circles), as main sponsors.
While you can’t read too much into pre-season friendlies this new Oldham set-up got off to an encouraging start with a win at Barrow last Sunday when tries by new boy Dan Abram (2), Harry Aaronson and Danny Bridge, plus three conversions by Abram, got them home, 22-18.
They did more than enough to deserve a big following of fans at the Crown Oil Arena on Sunday.
Roughyeds fans have already heard how much the Law Cup means to Gareth Owen and his team mates and supporters now have this opportunity to get behind the boys and show what derby bragging rights mean to them too.
Oldham will be going for their third straight win in the Law Cup, having triumphed 28-8 at the Vestacare Stadium last year and 28-24 at the Crown Oil Arena in 2018.
In fact, Roughyeds have won five of the last six pre-season derbies, the exception being Rochdale’s 24-12 win in 2017.
The game hasn’t attracted a four-figure crowd since 2008 in Rochdale when 1,108 witnessed a 26-20 win for Hornets, but club officials hope that with both clubs on the thresholds of new beginnings Sunday’s showdown could attract the biggest gate for a long time.
Rochdale also put up an encouraging display last Sunday, going down by ten points at home to a young Widnes Vikings side.
Matt Calland will have a few trialists on view — some from the Oldham area — but he’s also got plenty of experience in players like new skipper Sean Penkywicz, Shaun Ainscough and his latest recruit, Dale Bloomfield, who has played for both clubs.
There’s a feeling among the Hornets faithful that with the arrival of a new board of directors the only way is up.
There should be a decent crowd and it would be nice to think it could hit four figures for the first time since 2008.
Last ten attendances:
At Oldham — 569 (2019), 575 (2017), 796 (2011), 1,493 (2004), 1,360 (1993).
At Rochdale — 504 (2018), 624 (2016), 819 (2013), 1,108 (2008), 1,114 (2006).