Oldham RLFC

The Roughyeds


Two Oldham boys in Wembley Final

WERE you aware that two Oldham boys played in the Challenge Cup Final at Wembley — Josh Thewlis, the Warrington Wolves right-wing and Zach Eckersley, the Wigan Warriors right centre.

Given that Wire left-wing Matty Ashton is from Heywood, and still lives there, we could reasonably argue that Ashton was another ’local’ who found fame elsewhere, especially as he was originally at Mayfield, who are not only current holders of the Oldham Standard Cup but who have several youngsters in the Oldham Pathway scheme, pushed so admirably by the likes of Mike Ford and the Oldham board, plus Joe Warburton, of course.

There are no such doubts about Thewlis and Eckersley, two Oldham lads who are as much part of this town as Tommyfield or Oldham Edge.

Both were at Waterhead as kids — another medal for the Peach Road club whose record of producing stars of the future is second to none.

St Anne’s and Saddleworth have also had their moments in terms of player production, but Waterhead, wow ! One has only to think of Kevin Sinfield, Paul Sculthorpe, and Barrie McDermott. The club’s Roll of Honour takes some beating, so congrats to them.

Thewlis (22) made his Super League debut for Warrington in a 34-4 win against Catalans Dragons in 2019. He played twice for England Knights in 2022 and little more than a year later was named in the full England squad for the for the third Test against Tonga.

Eckersley (20) is from a well-known local rugby family. His father Chris played for Oldham and Warrington and his paternal grandfather, Graham, played on the wing for Oldham RU Club, writes ROGER HALSTEAD.

Like his grandad and his dad before him, Zach was a sprinter of some repute too. In his High School days in Oldham, he sprinted for Oldham and Royton Harriers and represented Greater Manchester Schools.

I knew Graham well back in the day and first came across Chris when, in his very young days, he was named in a squad of Oldham boys whom I accompanied to Australia under the command of the then Oldham RLFC coaches, the late Eric Fitzsimons and his Watersheddings assistant Iain MacCorquodale plus the late and much revered Fred Laughton, who had himself played for Oldham RU Club as a prop.

Fast forward several years and Chris signed for the ’new’ Oldham following the liquidation of the previous club. In 1998, the first season under the command of Chris Hamilton and three others, Chris Eckersley, a real flier on the wing, scored 15 tries in 22 appearances, missing only two. He was top of the tree on two counts — easily in front on the try count (next best was centre Afi Leuila with eight) and joint top with John Hough on the number of appearances.

It was enough to attract Warrington’s attention and off he went to Wilderspool, leaving Joe McNicholas as our top winger and one of three ever-presents in 1999.
We’ve also heard that the third generation Eckersley, Zach, is a keen goalkicker, who has been mentored by Joe Ford, the eldest of Mike’s three lads and brother of George, who has nearly 100 England RU caps as goalkicker and fly half, and Jacob, who is a coach in Union in his own right down in Suffolk.

There are Oldham connections all over the place and putting the focus on local boys who have left the town to do well elsewhere is relevant because Ford hopes that he can reverse the trend in years to come. All power to his elbow on that count. He will need no reminding that, together with Bill Quinn and his allies he will need to take the club forward a long way before he is in a position to snare the pick of the crop at a young age, but he has to make a start somewhere . . . and what better way to start than with the Pathway programme.

As for Wigan and their very different coach Matty Peet, Sky Sports have previously said he could make as big an impact in rugby league as Alex Ferguson, Pep Guardiola or Jurgen Klopp in football.
We also heard from Wembley that the Wigan club had come a long way because Peet had gone out of his way to concentrate on values and to include the local community.
Now, haven’t we heard that before somewhere?

Wembley 2024 was certainly a special occasion for the sport over and above the magnificent tributes to a magnificent guy called Rob Burrow.

If there was only one Rob Burrow, there’s only one Rugby League — a sport of which we can all be proud.


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