‘Biggest game by far’ – ChrisDate published: Friday, September 4, 2015
PLAYERS and staff at Whitebank are gearing up for what they perceive to be Oldham’s biggest game since last year’s Grand Final.
They could lose to Swinton Lions on Sunday (3pm) and still finish as League One leaders with a win at Oxford in the last game, but when you’ve prevailed in 11 games on the run you don’t even contemplate defeat, especially on home soil.
A 12th consecutive victory would put Scott Naylor’s men within touching distance of the League Leaders’ crown and then within 80 minutes of a golden opportunity to clinch promotion with a win at Whitebank where they rarely lose.
“We’ve had a lot of important games this year, but this is the biggest of the lot by far,” said club chairman Chris Hamilton.
“They’re all big games from here on in, but the fans will definitely see this one as an opportunity not to be missed,” added Naylor.
“Massive, simple as that,” quipped Tom Ashton.
Giving the dressing room view, Ashton said the players were confident, but not excessively so, and were aware that, with nine consecutive wins behind them, the Lions will be formidable opponents.
“One long winning streak is going to end. In that respect it will be D-Day,” added the former Sheffield Eagles centre, who is keeping fingers crossed that he will keep his left-centre spot when Naylor names his line-up tomorrow.
“We all want to play in big games, but competition for spots is tough. Like everyone else, I’m just hoping to be selected.
“There’s a great spirit in the camp, one of the best groups I’ve been associated with.
“We enjoy banter and camaraderie, but once on the field everybody does the business. Team spirit and work ethos is second to none.
“It does put pressure on us to keep our winning run going because we’re only human. But we don’t think of that once we’re out there and, in any event, Swinton are in the same boat.”
The season was already in full swing when he signed from Sheffield and in only his second game he seriously damaged a knee, which kept him out for the next four months.
This game will be his fourth one back and, in his words, he is still “catching up” in terms of general match fitness and stamina.
“Hopefully, my best is still to come,” he added. “It would be nice to think it could be in the promotion final, but we mustn’t think about that yet; we still have a lot of work to do first.”
Then on crutches, Ashton watched Oldham’s 32-26 win at Sedgley Park in June, which was a defining moment in the Roughyeds’ season.
It followed a spell of three defeats in four games and, after a 64-0 home win against Oxford, it was the second in the sequence of 11 wins on the spin.
Ashton was suitably impressed. “It was a terrific game, full of intensity and physicality and one that swung first one way and then the other. If Sunday’s match is half as good it will be a cracker.”
With Ritchie Hawkyard at full-back, Stuart Littler in the centre and Jordan James, Mike Morrison, Tommy Gallagher and Mick Govin in the forwards, Swinton are one of the most experienced teams in the division.
They spent 2012, 2013 and 2014 in the higher Championship division and, in John Duffy, they have an ambitious young coach who is in his first full season in charge.
Behind a big, strong pack, Ben White is in a rich vein of form, having scored in each of the Lions’ last four games.
Veteran Littler (36) scored five tries against Oxford on Monday. He and his winger, former Oldham man Shaun Robinson, form a lethal right flank, having scored 32 League One tries between them this season.
Last word to 23-year-old Ashton: “If I’m picked, I’ll probably be up against Littler. He’s a very good player. Let’s hope my youthful exuberance will count for something.”