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All on this one if Oldham are to retain title hopes

REALISTICALLY, if not mathematically, Oldham need to do what no other team has done this season in Betfred League One and beat Dewsbury Rams tonight (Friday) if they are to retain anything more than the slightest outside chance of finishing top, lifting the crown and going up automatically.

Even now, the most likely scenario is that they will have to win the play-offs to qualify for promotion to the Championship and, given that Doncaster have already pipped them THREE times this season – a league double plus a Challenge Cup tie – it would obviously be very beneficial to finish top of the play-off qualifiers to earn a home tie in the final if indeed they reach that conclusive conclusion, writes ROGER HALSTEAD.

Top spot apart, a second-place finish is probably the most Roughyeds can hope for now and that would mean finishing above current second-place occupants Doncaster, who have three points more than we have, each with only seven games left.

Roughyeds can take great heart from the fact that they are the only side this year to take a point off hot title favourites Dewsbury – and at 24-14 up ten minutes into the second half there’s a good argument to say thy should have won – and the other ‘positive’, namely that they have better ‘for’, ‘against’ and ‘differential’ figures than Doncaster, whose home game against Dewsbury on the last day of the league season could prove decisive in determining final places.

Even if we accept that the Rams are going to finish top, tonight’s game is crucial for Roughyeds in terms of finishing second. Can they win ? Of course they can. Will they win ? There lies the imponderable. If they record such a poor set completion rate as they did when losing 22-28 to Doncaster last Sunday, and consequently having to spend large periods of the game on defence, they will find it hard to keep the Rams at bay.

If, on the other hand, they respect their own possession, tackle and defend as befits one of the best defensive record in the league, possess the mental strength to soak up adversity, and do enough to make sure that large swathes of the game take place in the Dewsbury half, they can pull off a result that will make the entire Rugby League sit up, take note and perhaps re-assess the odds against Oldham at least finishing second.

How do the teams compare to that great game last month which ended 26-26 at our place thanks to Martyn Ridyard’s long-range penalty goal in the dying embers of a match that was a fantastic advert for rugby league at this level.

Oldham that night lined up like this: McNally; Hartley, Hirst, Morgan, Ah Van; Ridyard, Paga; Meadows, Wilkinson, Nelmes, Cameron, Baker, Whittell. Subs: Slater, Brierley. Wilson, Moran.

There will be at least two changes tonight because winger Joe Hartley and centre Kian Morgan (suspended) are not included in the previously-announced 21, which includes young and hugely talented Tom Forber on dual reg from Wigan Warriors, utility forwards James Thornton and Dom Newton, new wing or centre signing Nick Rawsthorne, prop Jack Blagbrough and on-loan centre Connor Carr, none of whom figured in the draw at home.

With on-loan forward Samy Kibula also suspended we can expect numerous changes for this short-turnaround game.

Dewsbury went into battle at the Vestacare Stadium like this: Owen Restall; Lewis Carr, Bailey O’Connor, Ollie Greensmith, Simon Frewin; Paul Sykes, Calum Turner; Jimmy Beckett, Reiss Butterworth, Ronan Dixon, Matt Garside, Brad Graham, Connor Davies. Subs: Davey Dixon, Elliott Morris, Dale Ferguson, Jackson Walker.

In beating Rochdale Hornets 42-0 at home last time out, they fielded a much-changed back division; the same halves; two changes in the pack which included prop Will Maher, signed on loan from Halifax because of injury to Dale Ferguson and Ronan Dixon on the bench.

We won’t know how the teams line up until shortly before kick-off, but all the indications are that there will be several changes from last time.

If nothing else it should be VERY interesting . . . and if there’s one team to beat in order to earn League One headlines it’s got to be Dewsbury Rams.

Over to you Oldham!

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