Big Ben strikes a chord

Date published: Friday, June 27, 2014
BEN Wood’s season looked to be heading nowhere when he was dropped after Oldham’s first league defeat at Hunslet on Good Friday.

He wasn’t on his own in producing a sub-standard performance. Tom Whitehead and Mark Hobson also suffered the consequences of a 38-12 reverse in a bitterly-disappointing team effort, and then found they couldn’t get back into the side as they slid down the pecking order.
Wood’s left-centre spot eventually went to a late arrival, Jon Ford on dual registration from Salford Red Devils, and for the next few weeks big Ben was out in the cold.
He turned out in a couple of under-20s games, but he didn’t play any first-team rugby from April 18 to June 15 when he was reinvented as a forward coming off the bench.
Danny Langtree was suspended for the home game against South Wales, so the emerging and extremely promising George Tyson got his first start in the second-row and Wood was given a chance again in a completely new role among the substitutes.
Required to mix it in the middle, he looked much more at home among the other big men than he did out wide in the backs.
He scored two of Oldham’s ten tries in a 58-2 hammering of the Welsh and did enough to keep his place at Gateshead where he was equally impressive in a much tougher and more demanding environment.
It remains to be seen whether he is in the 17 for Sunday’s game at Oxford —- Scott Naylor has no shortage of options in the forwards — but even if he isn’t he has already posted notice that he doesn’t intend to be ignored as the competition for places gathers momentum towards the business end of the season.
Said Naylor: “I’ve liked what I’ve seen of ‘Woody’ in the last two games. He’s been really good. He has added to the competition for pack places and it gives me a few headaches.
“Everyone is available apart from Adam Files. We are winning games and are joint top of the division so it isn’t easy to make changes.
“On the other hand I’m aware that we have some crucial games coming up in July and I need to be building towards getting out my strongest team for then.
“I need to get July right. Four tough games include York away and Hunslet at Whitebank. With that in mind I might tweak things a little bit at Oxford and see how we go.”
Tony Benson’s Blues, second from bottom, have lost five games in a row and haven’t won since mid-May when they beat South Wales 40-24 at home.
They’ve been beaten since by Gateshead and London Skolars at home and by Hemel, Hunslet and Gloucester away, conceding 37 points a game on average.
Since they were beaten 48-28 at Whitebank on May 4, they’ve signed prop Karl Temata, formerly of New Zealand Warriors and London Broncos, who doubles up as player-coach and Benson’s right-hand man.
In eight seasons at Broncos he made 137 appearances, most of them in Super League, and represented Cook Islands in the 2000 World Cup.
Naylor will warn his players to expect a tough reception at Iffley Road, like the one that was waiting for them at Gateshead.
He said: “Their league position and their recent record will count for nothing. With so much ex-Oldham interest in their camp they’ll be fired up for this one.
“We’ve looked at what they are and what they’re good at, but it’s really down to what we are and what we do.
“If we turn up on the day and do the right things we’ll be okay. If we go there with the sort of attitude we showed at Hemel we’ll be in trouble.
“We’ve had two super wins since then, but we need to be just as switched-on individually and collectively as we were in the North-East last week.”