THEY lost again, 18-30, but this was a vastly-improved Roughyeds’ performance in which a young side tested Halifax to the full and did more than enough to raise spirits and morale throughout the club ahead of next Saturday’s visit of Barrow Raiders in the first round of the Betfred Challenge Cup.
Watching on Our League, fans saw Roughyeds grow into the game, conceding an early ten points but then fighting back with commitment and honest endeavour to make sure that, if nothing else, Halifax headed back to The Shay knowing they had been in a tough, meaningful contest.
The result was of little significance; the performance was of huge consequence — and in terms of stepping up to the mark and preparing positively for what lies ahead, Roughyeds delivered big style.
Leading the charge was prop Luke Nelmes, who came off the bench to look as though he was relishing every big hit, either given or taken. He took it upon himself to ‘police’ Halifax’s big French international prop Gadwin Springer, once of Castleford Tigers and Toronto Wolfpack, and their personal battle was one to behold.
Springer, one of eight new signings in a Panthers squad of 21, got some delightful offloads away before Nelmes came off the bench and decided enough was enough.
It was no coincidence Roughyeds were at their best when Nelmes and Springer were knocking six bells out of each other; home-side confidence levels seeming to soar with the realisation that in their midst was a forward who would accept responsibility for picking out the opposition’s danger man and letting him know he couldn’t get all his own way.
Already hit by injuries to Ben Heaton and Tyler Dupree, both hurt at Featherstone, Roughyeds suffered two more pre-match setbacks when first Phil Joy failed a fitness test, also on a knock sustained last week, and then Ryan Ince withdrew because he was suffering from a complaint that was totally unrelated to Covid.
There was no Dave Hewitt either and without senior backs Heaton, Ince and Cameron Leeming, also injured, Matt Diskin went with five young newcomers out of the seven to start outside the pack.
Tommy Brierley, Max Roberts, Joe Hartley, Ben Holcroft and James Barran were all on home debut, with Barran at half-back and Hartley in the centre where, it has to be said, the former St Anne’s back made a very impressive job of it in only his second game in semi-pro rugby.
He looked far more at home at centre than he did on the wing at Featherstone. On home soil here he looked like a player who will have plenty to offer the more he grows accustomed to playing at this level.
He looked strong, confident and full of self-belief; a ringing endorsement of his determination to successfully straddle the huge gulf in class that he is striving to negotiate with his home-town team.
James Barran, another local lad, further enhanced his growing reputation as one to watch as the young backs generally did exceptionally well against more experienced players.
That isn’t to say that their opponents contributed little. Indeed, Panthers half-backs Connor Robinson and Liam Harris were at the heart of everything the Yorkshire side threw at Roughyeds, Harris especially looking to have the skill and know-how to make a big impression on the Betfred Championship this year.
In the forwards there were definite signs that Roughyeds will be able to hold their own this year, Nelmes getting strong support from his fellow ‘middles’ Martyn Reilly, Liam Kirk, Jack Spencer, Matthew Fletcher and Jode Sheriffe.
Further out, Danny Langtree, Danny Bridge and Shaun Pick gave Panthers plenty to think about, while Gareth Owen showed nice touches from dummy half, as did his replacement, the always-busy and sometimes explosive Dec Gregory.
Fax scored six tries to Oldham’s three, but for the last hour, at least, Roughyeds matched them all the way and could easily have got much closer to them but for individual errors and, at times, an overall defensive stucture which still needs tweaking to prevent opponents creating and exploiting wide open spaces on the flanks.
One-on-one tackling was much improved, but can still get better and will surely do so as players get more game time under their belts. Four of Fax’s six tries were scored out wide and while the experience and guile of Robinson and Harris can take a lot of credit for that, Roughyeds can also do more to tighten their defence.
Tries by Zack McComb, of all people, and William Calcott, goaled by Robinson, gave the visitors an early 10-0 lead, but from middle of the first half there was little to choose between the sides.
Dan Abram pounced on Lewis Charnock’s kick to score a try and then add the extras himself to make it 6-10 at half-time.
In a more open, fluid second half, Ed Barber, Conor McGrath, James Saltonstall and James Woodburn-Hall scored tries for Fax, while Callum Green and Danny Bridge replied for Roughyeds, both tries improved by Barran with Abram off the field.
Bridge finished strongly wide out and a couple of minutes later went agonisingly close to scoring another.
Earlier, Green scored a beauty within seconds of coming off the bench to replace Abram at full-back.
‘Langers’ made the running with a strong break, spotted Green lurking with intent on his inside and released the pass which Green collected at pace to score easily.
Barrow next in the cup. It should be a cracker.
OLDHAM: Abram; Brierley, Roberts, Hartley, Holcroft; Charnock, Barran; Reilly, Owen, Kirk, Bridge, Langtree, Bent. Subs: Gregory, Nelmes, Spencer, Fletcher, Green, Sheriffe, Pick.
HALIFAX: Grix; McGrath, Rawsthorne, McComb, Saltonstall; Harris, Robinson; Calcott, Moore, Murray, Garside, Barber, Larroyer. Subs: Bourough, Connor Davies, Curtis Davies, Fairbank, Morris, Springer, Tibbs, Woodburn-Hall.
Referee: Matt Rossleigh.