OLDHAM have enjoyed many tremendous games with Newcastle Thunder in the last few seasons — none better than the 2019 Promotion Play-Off Final at the Vestacare Stadium — and the rivalry will continue in 2021 following the decision to elevate Thunder to the Betfred Championship next season.
The ambitious Tynesiders, whom we beat 18-14 in a thriller to book our passage to the Championship, got the nod to move up to the second tier to fill the vacancy caused by the forthcoming ‘promotion’ of one of six clubs from the Championship to the Betfred Super League to replace Toronto Wolfpack.
While there was unbridled joy for Thunder and their aspirations to make the North-East a rugby league hot-bed over the next decade, there was bitter disappointment for their rivals in application — Barrow Raiders, Doncaster, Rochdale Hornets and Workington Town.
The verdict means a repeat, this time in the Championship, of Oldham v Newcastle games, which have produced so many terrific clashes in the past.
Remember this (a description from Roger Halstead’s match report of the 2019 Promotion Final) ?
“It was a Promotion Final that had everything — thrills, spills, great tries, desperation tackles and Jimmy Beckett’s 63rd-minute winner which provided the 19-year-old and all the Oldham fans in a crowd of 1,204 with memories that will last a lifetime in Jimmy’s case and probably nearly as long for everyone else.”
The current situation regarding Championship places for 2021 sees nine clubs confirmed —- Batley Bulldogs, Dewsbury Rams, newly-named Halifax Panthers, Newcastle Thunder, OLDHAM RLFC, Sheffield Eagles, Swinton Lions, Whitehaven RLFC, Widnes Vikings.
The following six clubs have applied to take Toronto’s place in Super League — Bradford Bulls, Featherstone Rovers, Leigh Centurions, London Broncos, Toulouse Olympique and York City Knights.
The five disappointed clubs when the big decision is made next week will remain in the Championship and join the nine named above to form a 14-club division.
Air Commodore Dean Andrew OBE, who chaired the five-strong panel that elevated Thunder up the ladder, wished the Tynesiders good luck in their preparations to play “in what promises to be a vibrant and high-quality Betfred Championship competition.”
Oldham have high hopes of holding their own, having announced a squad of 27 players which includes a dozen new signings in James Barran, Tommy Brierley, Tyler Dupree, Callum Green, Ben Heaton, Ben Holcroft, Ryan Ince, Liam Kirk, Luke Nelmes, Shaun Pick, Martyn Reilly, Max Roberts.