Any two from four

Date published: Friday, May 31, 2013
ANY two from four . . . Scott Naylor will reveal no more than that about his choice of Oldham half-backs for Sunday’s clash with London Skolars.

He has, however, warned his Roughyeds players that this fourth out of eight Kingstone Press Championship One games at Whitebank (3pm kick off) could be the toughest so far.

Getting it right at half-back, and filling the gap left by injured Danny Whitmore, will be crucial.

In the frame for the two spots are Lewis Palfrey, Neil Roden, Kenny Hughes and Sam Singleton.

* Club captain Palfrey marshalled his troops well in last Sunday’s 54-16 hammering of Gateshead Thunder and kicked nine goals from nine shots.

Naylor has used a squad rotation policy all season, but Palfrey has played in every league game and was last rested in late March at South Wales Scorpions in the Northern Rail Cup.

* Veteran Roden (33), the most experienced player at the club, didn’t figure in the wins against Gateshead and Hemel Stags (30-12) and last played in the 18-16 home defeat by Oxford when he was targeted and given a tough time.

* Hughes, a hooker by trade, stepped into the breach off the bench when Whitmore broke an arm last week and did an excellent job in a demanding, decision-making role.

* Singleton, a young scrum-half yet to play in the senior side, has impressed in the under-20s to such an extent that he has been training with the first team for the past six weeks.

Said Naylor: “We’ve been working on different half-back combinations in training, but that’s all I can say for the time being.

“Beyond the enforced change at half-back it’s going to be a very similar line-up to last week.”

It would be a huge gamble to throw Singleton into a game like this or to leave out the captain, Palfrey, who has played in nearly every game this year.

Fans will expect to see him again leading out the side, to be partnered in midfield by Roden or Hughes, depending on whether Naylor goes for the steadying hand of experience or the adventurous exuberance of youth.

Centre Jon Ford will again be available on dual registration from partner club Salford City Reds.

Loose-forward Mark Hobson, rested last week, is unavailable to regain his spot due to a prior engagement away from rugby which was agreed with Naylor several weeks ago.

That looks likely to provide an opportunity, perhaps on the bench, for 21-year-old Oldham-born Niall Bradley, who has been playing in the second team for the past two months.

He signed in early April after playing in the reserve team at Halifax for two seasons.

Oldham (from): Lepori, Agoro, Cookson, Ford, Bloomfield, Palfrey, Roden, Hughes, Singleton, Gilchrist, Gee, Joy, Crowley, Langtee, Thompson, Files, Ward, Boults, Nield, Bradley.

Although Skolars have lost three of their five league games, they finished top of their pool in the Northern Rail Cup and they nearly pulled off a Challenge Cup upset at Whitehaven, losing 38-32.

Their two league wins were against South Wales (39-20) and Oxford last week (40-34), both at home.

The week before that they gave Rochdale a fright at Spotland before slipping to defeat 32-24.

Big prop Rob Thomas, a powerful front-rower, came off the bench against Oxford to score three tries and tip the game London’s way.

Said Naylor: “It will be tough. We’ll need to play for 80 minutes, and be at our best. London are four points behind us in the league, but by the time they’ve played us they will have played each of the top five clubs in the division.

“That’s as tough a start as they come.”