150 not out for ‘Ropes’Date published: Friday, July 31, 2015
STEVE Roper couldn’t have wished for a better game to mark his 150th career appearance than a top-of-the-table showdown with Keighley Cougars.
Nor could he have been squared up, at League One level, with a more in-your-face opponent than Cougars’ player-coach Paul March.
Old timer he may be, but at 36 March will handle the ball more than anybody else in a Cougars jersey and will employ every trick in the book to give his side an advantage.
When beaten at Cougar Park, a younger Oldham side showed canny veterans like March and 33-year-old Paul Handforth far too much respect and allowed them to completely dictate a first half in which the home side built a 26-0 interval lead.
Handforth, who scored two tries, is out injured this time and Oldham won’t be losing any sleep about that.
Said Roper: “It will probably mean that even more stuff with go through March. He and Handforth controlled the game at their place.
“Over the years I’ve played a few times against March. He’s hugely experienced and he knows the game inside out.
“He’s obviously one of their main threats.”
‘Ropes’ has reached his 150-game milestone with 14 for Widnes, 13 for Workington, 86 for Rochdale, three for Gloucester and 33 for Oldham.
By comparison, March touched 400 last week and he’s one of only several Keighley players who have been around the block and back.
In the first half at Cougar Park, Roughyeds looked in awe of them. The defeat was the second of three in four games — hard to believe right now after a run of seven wins in a row, producing ever-increasing confidence and self-belief.
They are playing good, hard rugby with a phenomenal work-rate in defence and quick, structured thrusts on attack on the back of powerful drives by the forwards, speedy play-the-balls and creativity out of dummy half.
They were old-headed at Cougar Park, but they say it won’t happen again in Sunday’s top-two showdown at Whitebank.
Added Roper: “We let ourselves down at their place. We weren’t ourselves. We feel bad about that, and now we’ve got a good opportunity to put things right.
“We’ve been going well for a few weeks, so there’s no reason why anything should change.
“The pack’s on fire. It’s a lot easier for a little half-back like me to play behind a set of forwards like ours.
“Adam Neal and Phil Joy have been giving us a great start; Wardy (Michael Ward) has made a big impact off the bench; and then we have Josh Crowley and Danny Langtree in the back-row. How good’s that ?
“If we play as well as we can, and certainly like we played in Wrexham last week, it would be hard for any team in our division to get the better of us.”
Both sides have got off to flying starts to record some of their best wins of the season and March is planning to do the same again at Whitebank.
Said the Cougars boss: “We’ve blown a few sides away early on and then finished the game off. That’s what we did against Oldham and Rochdale at home and Newcastle away.
“It’s going to be a mouth-watering game at Whitebank and we’ll be looking to start well and go on from there.”
They won’t if Naylor has his way. Said the Roughyeds boss: “A lot of the boys are in their third season together now and it’s good to see them playing such good rugby and winning games consistently.
“It will be exceptionally tough, but we had a 40-minute blip when we played them at their place and the lads are looking forward to having the opportunity to right a few wrongs.”