Saturday night’s 32-12 win against a talented St Helens Select side proved without any shadow of doubt that Matt Diskin meant what he said when he was unveiled as Oldham’s new head coach and said he was passionate about open, expansive and entertaining rugby.
In the first pre-season game at Barrow we saw Diskin’s dynamics put into practice for the first 25 minutes or so when Roughyeds raced into a 16-0 lead only to lose their way a little bit after that although coming home victorious 22-18.
Next up was Rochdale where things didn’t go according to plan in an 18-12 Law Cup defeat, but where there were again glimpses of the sort of wing-to-wing rugby that the new team boss is striving to create at Oldham, writes ROGER HALSTEAD.
In chapter three — the Vestacare Stadium clash against a young but hugely talented Saints squad — we saw almost a full 80 minutes of the new Roughyeds brand, initially dodgy in its execution but truly sublime in flashes, especially in the run-up to half-time and then again in the last quarter of an hour or so.
Six tries, two wide out on the right, three out wide on the left and only one up the middle, tells its own tale.
Even the one that bust Saints open up the middle was the direct result of excellent creativity — the sort that fans love to see and to drool over.
We don’t see enough of this sort of thing in the safety-first modern game so how refreshing it was to witness Lewis Charnock’s clever chip over the defensive line. He regathered on the first bounce and in one exquisite movement put the ball inside to the supporting Kyran Johnson, who raced under the posts.
That was attacking rugby league at its best — a try to warm the cockles of a Roughyeds heart on one of the coldest nights of the winter so far.
But there were many other moments too in a performance that quickly erased the memory of what happened at Rochdale.
Long before Oldham got on the scoresheet for the first time after half an hour centre James Worthington and wing Declan Kay caused the Saints’ left-flank defence heaps of problems.
On the other side of the field Danny Bridge was having a blinder out wide on the left.
Significantly, the ball was being moved both ways at speed and even if some passes went astray it was evident that if and when Roughyeds got it right Saints would be in a spot of bother.
Eventually, a long, high, looping pass from Charnock gave Kay a walk-in at the corner and a few minutes later more slick left-to-right passing saw Worthington running a super line and cutting back inside to score near the posts.
Paul Crook, of all people, had put Saints in front with an eighth minute try that Lewis Dodd goaled, but the flurry of activity just before half-time, with Dan Abram converting the Worthington try, gave Roughyeds a 10-6 interval lead.
Centre Matthew Costello, who made 11 senior appearances for Saints last year as well as going out on dual-reg to Sheffield Eagles, put Saints back in front with a try in the corner which Dodd converted beautifully off the touchline.
Oldham regained the initiative despite playing with only one recognised prop in Phil Joy following the late and precautionary withdrawal of Jack Spencer, whose back was going into spasm.
Lighter ‘middles’ like Daniel Igbinedion, Liam Bent and, off the bench, new-boy Matthew Fletcher stepped up to the mark to lend Joy a hand.
On debut, teenager Fletcher had a very encouraging first game, especially considering that he had trained only twice with his new team mates and was still very much finding his feet at a new club.
Watching in the crowd were his former Waterhead coaches and mentors, Keith Brennan and Jon Perks — a clear indication of the regard in which he was held at Peach Road before he headed off to aspire to greater levels.
Kay again went close in the right-hand corner before Oldham’s discipline let them down, not for the first time in this pre-season programme, when Worthington was sin-binned for dissent.
He was penalised for passing after a tackle was complete, whereupon he was sent back another ten for dissent and then shown yellow for continuing his verbal protest.
Bridge was prominent whenever Oldham went wide left and it was fitting that he should regain the lead for his side with an excellent 71st-minute try which Dave Hewitt goaled.
Hewitt and Charnock, the halves, were calling the shots and Bridge got his second try after a defence-busting razzle-dazzle by Hewitt, who gave Bridge a fully-deserved walk-in.
Hewitt goaled again and then added his third conversion after Charnock’s assist of the Johnson try.
Three tries in seven minutes put Oldham fans on a high, but there was still more to come when Hewitt floated a bomb to the left and Bridge soared high to get Harry Aaronson in at the corner as the final hooter sounded.
While accepting that Widnes Vikings will be much tougher and more experienced opponents in the opening Betfred Championship game at Bower Fold in a fortnight, Oldham fans left for home with a spring in their stride, encouraged by what they had seen and looking forward to Thursday evening’s meet-and-greet session with Matt Diskin and the players in the Vestacare social club at 7pm.
Scorers: Oldham — tries, Kay (32), Worthington (38), Bridge (71 and 76), Johnson (78), Aaronson (80); goals, Abram 1/2, Hewitt 3/4; St Helens — tries, Crook (8), Costello (44); goals, Dodd 2/2.
OLDHAM: Abram; Kay, Worthington, Smith, Johnson; Charnock, Hewitt; Joy, Owen, Igbinedion, Langtree, Bridge, Bent. Subs (all used): Aaronson, Brook, Wilkinson, Fletcher.
ST HELENS: Abel; Rizzelli, Costello, Simm, Nisbet; Crook, Dodd; Hazzard, Eaves, Eckley, Batchelor, Wheldon, Royle. Subs (all used): Nash, Pye, Davies, Siyani, H McDaid, Sambou, K McDaid, Brooks, Baxter.
Referee; Steve Race; att: 318.