Big dates for ‘Thompo’Date published: Friday, July 10, 2015
IT’S cap-and-gown time for Liam Thompson on Tuesday, but before that he’s looking forward to a biff-and-bash appointment at Whitebank in Sunday’s derby clash with Rochdale Hornets.
Will he be celebrating twice in three days ?
“That’s the objective. We have the utmost respect for Rochdale, but after the way we played to beat Swinton and York we’re quietly confident,” said Oldham’s 23-year-old loose-forward, who graduates in sports science from the University of Central Lancashire in Preston.
Hit hard by injury in his first two seasons at Whitebank, Wigan-born ‘Thompo’ has played in 17 of the Roughyeds’ 18 cup-and-league outings this year, operating as a grafter in defence and a steadying influence around the rucks and behind the props when Oldham have the ball.
He would never claim that he can score from half way or set a crowd alight; sufficient for him to know that he’s held in the utmost regard by his team mates and by the man who picks the side and appreciates the value of the vital role he plays in midfield.
He added: “Graduation will be a big day for me and a win in the derby would set the scene perfectly.
“We’re on a high just now — back on top of the league after four wins in a row — and we want to keep the momentum going. There’s a real buzz in training and everyone is enjoying their rugby again since we turned things round after those defeats by Keighley and North Wales a few weeks ago.
“Rochdale are always tough opponents, and especially when they come up against us, and Sunday will be no different.
“They’re only two points behind us and they’ll want to build on their big win at Newcastle last week. They’ll be quietly confident, like us, so it looks like being a great game for the fans of both clubs.
“There’s definitely a different feel to a derby. It’s that little bit of something extra that you don’t get in other games.
“We need to start well and try to establish some early control of the game. If we’re aggressive and play the sort of rugby we served up against Swinton and York we’ll give ourselves every chance of winning.
“The return to Whitebank of ‘Bloomers’ (ex-Oldham winger Dale Bloomfield) will give the game a bit more of an edge.
“It will be the first time he’s played at Whitebank since he left us at the end of last season so he’ll want to put on a bit of a show.
“He can finish well, as his try-scoring record shows, and he can put his side on the front foot with strong kick returns.
“We need to make sure our kick-chase routines are good so that we can shut him down before he makes much ground.”
If Scott Naylor were to opt for Steve Roper’s experience over the youthful exuberance of on-loan David Hewitt at half-back, Roper would also have special reason for turning it on against his former Spotland employers.
Individually, the stand-out players against York, in a team performance which Naylor felt was the best of the season, were Sam Gee at full-back, props Phil Joy and Adam Neal when returning for a second spell, second-rowers Josh Crowley and Danny Langtree and Michael Ward, coming off the bench as a strong-running destroyer.
Two-try Crowley was back to his outstanding attacking form of the past two seasons, while Langtree was dangerous on the other side of the field and got on the scoresheet for the third game in a row.
Key men to watch in Hornets colours will be veteran full-back and captain Wayne English and the man who has often hurt Roughyeds in the past, Paul Crook.
Dubbed the ‘ginger general’, Crook hit a career milestone of 500 goals at Newcastle last week, which is no surprise given the quality of his goal, field and drop kicking as demonstrated in the six most recent derbies, ending three apiece.
Now playing at hooker after spending most of his career in the halves, Crook has scored ten tries this season — five more than Gareth Owen, Adam Files and Kenny Hughes put together.
Oldham-born Danny Yates (21) has also scored ten tries from half-back, exploiting unwary defences with his clever footwork close to the line.
Few teams win at Whitebank, but Hornets have done it on their last two visits — 23-22 (thanks to Crook’s long-range drop goal near the end) in the 2013 play-off series and 28-18 in Naylor’s first league game as boss, back in March, 2013.
Said coach Ian Talbot: “This is a massive derby, no matter what level of the pro game it’s played at.
“Oldham are a quality side, sitting on top of the competition, but we’ll be going to Whitebank to peg back a couple of points and to get a little nearer the summit ourselves.”