TOUGH-AS-TEAK Ben Heaton, who left Oldham as a fresh-faced youngster nine years ago, has returned to Roughyeds as a battle-hardened pro with more than 200 career games behind him, at least half of them in the Betfred Championship.
Now aged 30, Rochdale-based Heaton has signed a two-year deal to become a senior member of Matt Diskin’s reshaped squad which now includes five newcomers, with more to come.
Said a ‘delighted’ Diskin:
“Ben has a wealth of experience, plus tough and uncompromising attributes which will be good for the team and good for the club.
“With ball in hand he’s strong, skilful and determined, while he’ll also provide defensive stability on the edges. He’s a huge signing, you can be sure of that.”
Heaton started out as a young full-back at Oldham, but he soon developed into a centre and he has played at No 3 or No 4 for most of his career, seven seasons of which were spent at Halifax, all of them in the Championship.
Club chairman Chris Hamilton was just as enthusiastic and upbeat about Heaton’s return to Roughyeds as was his head coach. He said:
“Ben has signed for two years and it’s a big signing for us. He’s played lots of Championship rugby and his style is just what we need — tough, rugged and direct.
" He’s totally committed and he’s the sort of player opponents look out for because they know how he plays and what he can do.
“On top of all that you can throw in the fact that he knows the club well and he was keen to come. We know him too; and he’s the sort of lad you’d rather have in your side than in the opposition’s camp.”
Heaton has been a thorn in Oldham’s side several times over the past nine years, none more so than in April last year when he scored two late, long-range tries to pull off a 36-28 win for Hunslet in a sensational League One match at the Vestacare Stadium.
Both sides went down to 11 men with about quarter of an hour left and Hunslet coped better with the extra space available to come from behind to win with Heaton’s brace and another late try by prop Adam Robinson, another ex-Roughyed and one of four in Hunslet colours; Heaton, Robinson, centre Tom Ashton and winger Dale Bloomfield.
In total Ben scored 11 tries in 11 League One games for Hunslet in 2019 – 13 games all told — and his late two-try salvo at The Vestacare inflicted Oldham’s third defeat in their first six league games. They then embarked on a run of 14 wins out of 16 to storm to promotion and to proudly take their place in the Championship.
After seven seasons at Halifax, where he scored 58 tries in 137 games, plus another seven at Batley where he went on loan for a spell after a lay-off with a leg injury in 2014, a return to an Oldham side that, like him, will be determined to show it can hold its own at the higher level, will suit him down to the ground.
“I feel I’ve got some unfinished business to attend to in the Championship. It’s great to get back to Oldham, the club that gave me my first big break, and to get the opportunity to achieve some personal goals.
“I want to show that I’m still a Championship player and that I can still hack it at the higher level and if I can do that with Oldham, where it all began for me, nobody will be happier than me.
“It goes without saying that I want to see Oldham establish themselves as a Championship club, but within that I also have this personal challenge as well; to show that I’ve still time left as a Championship player.
“It seems an eternity since we played and I’m chomping at the bit to get back out there. I’m doing a lot of running every day to keep fit and I’m just longing for the day when we’re called into action again.”
Domestically, life has taken on a whole new meaning for him since he was last at Oldham as a 19-year-old – a young lad from Heywood striving to make his way in the game.
All these years later, he’s still living in the Rochdale area, but he now has three boys and a girl, whose ages range from two to 11, and he runs his own business, BGH Builders.
It must seem a world away from that September day in 2009 when, after his debut off the bench at Dewsbury two months earlier, he got his first start at centre in a play-off semi-final, no less, at York. The City Knights were favourites because of Oldham’s injury-hit backs and their enforced late changes, but teenager Heaton scored a brilliant solo try after only five minutes and that set the platform for a shock 44-14 win.
Oldham lined up like this: Reilly; Onyango, Joseph, Heaton, O’Connor; N Roden, T Coyle; Boults, M Roden, Kerr, Baines, Goulden, Lawton. Subs: I’Anson, Menzies, Ashe, Sykes.
A week later Heaton was a sub in the Grand Final versus Keighley Cougars at Warrington. Cougars snatched it 28-25 as Roughyeds slipped to their third Grand Final defeat in a row.
He went on to score 20 tries in 49 Oldham appearances before he moved to The Shay where he was a first-team regular between 2012 and 2018 inclusive.
His career totals in cup and league so far are: 207 games, 90 tries (20 for Oldham, 58 for Halifax, 1 for Batley, 11 for Hunslet).