OLDHAM came up with a bitterly disappointing performance when well beaten by derby rivals Rochdale Hornets, 18-12, in the annual pre-season clash at the Crown Oil Arena.
Hornets were worthy winners of the Law Cup for the first time since 2017, showing far more resolve and intensity than Roughyeds, whose lack-lustre offering gave the impression that they seriously believed all they had to do was turn up.
There isn’t another sport in existence that is more likely than rugby league to throw up an upset if the so-called underdogs are highly motivated with a point to prove and their opponents are off-colour and fall well short in terms of desire and commitment.
Hornets did Matt Calland, the club’s new board and their fans proud.
Fielding a side that included two trialists in the starting line-up, four more on the bench in a squad of 20, and several starters who were playing National Conference rugby last season, Hornets led 14-0 at half-time; finished with four tries to Oldham’s two; and had two of the most influential players on the field in the hugely experienced Sean Penkywicz at hooker and Shaun Ainscough on the right wing.
Oldham’s shortage of forward strength, made even more acute when Ed Smith hurt his back in training on Saturday morning, was evident before kick-off when they named the only 17 players available and a bench of four that comprised of two backs, hooker Matty Wilkinson and one other forward, Daniel Igbinedion, who is still finding his feet at a new club which he only joined a fortnight ago.
Despite the best efforts of Phil Joy and Jack Spencer, Oldham struggled to establish go-forward up front with the result that any threat from the halves or out wide from the second-rowers and the backs was largely nullified.
Hornets tackled ferociously all over the field and it was difficult to imagine their defensive line being breached as easily as Ainscough broke Oldham with a midfield dummy and decisive break which produced the opening try for Lewis Sheridan after 15 minutes.
Oldham rarely looked like striking back against a rock-solid home defence and Hornets went further ahead when Ainscough released a pass while being pushed into touch near Oldham’s line and the lively Freeman scurried over in the corner.
Worse was to follow for Oldham who were conceding far too many penalties in their frustration . Rochdale had all the momentum on the back of four penalties in a row and good left-to-right handling by Tala and Marriott sent Andy Lea under the posts with not an Oldham defender in sight.
Roughyeds bucked up their ideas in the second half and got on the scoreboard when Danny Langtree exploded into life on the right. Wilkinson got with him and Hewitt finished off the move with a try which Dan Abram converted.
Five minutes later the Wilkinson-Langtree link-up struck again. This time Wilkinson made the initial break from dummy half and Langers went with him to send in Abram for a try which the full-back also goaled.
For a brief spell Oldham looked strong enough to snatch the lead. A penalty for a high tackle on Abram ended a run of six consecutive Hornets penalties and enabled a now-energised Roughyeds to force a drop-out.
Declan Kay was denied a try in the corner before Hornets struck back to score the try that was to prove decisive.
There seemed little danger when Ainscough was well covered and pushed towards the touch line but he somehow got the ball inside and Fowden came on the burst to crash over.
Oldham’s last chance of snatching a draw came and went when Abram elected to go it alone with Johnson and Aaronson unmarked on his outside.
Danny Langtree won the Oldham RL Heritage Trophy as Oldham’s top performer, narrowly beating Matty Wilkinson and Dan Abram, while Shaun Ainscough lifted the Marriott Trophy as Rochdale’s best player.
Scorers: Hornets — goal, Freeman; tries, L Sheridan, Freeman, Lea, Fowden; Oldham — goals, Abram (2); tries, Hewitt, Abram.
HORNETS: Freeman; Ainscough, Tala, B Calland, Bloomfield; L Sheridan, Jackson; Hesketh, Penkywicz, Carr, Forster, Syme, Lea. Subs: Nixon, Marriott, D Sheridan, Fowden, Hartley, Whitehead, Aspin.
OLDHAM: Abram; Kay, Worthington, Hutchings, Johnson; Charnock, Hewitt; Joy, Owen, Spencer, Langtree, Bridge, Bent. Subs: Brook, Wilkinson, Aaronson, Igbinedion.
Referee: Jack Smith; Pens: 13-7.