Cheltenham festival

Date published: Thursday, April 22, 2010

WE will take a 13-man reserve-team squad to Cheltenham on Saturday to compete for the first time in rugby league’s version of the Cheltenham Festival — the main event of which is a nine-a-side invitation tournament for the All Golds Cup.

There are four groups of three, the winners of each group going through to the semi-finals with the second and third teams in each progressing to the semi-finals of the Shield and Plate respectively.

John Hough’s Oldham nine will compete in group 1 with the Royal Navy and a Jamaican squad.

Group 2, British Army, Featherstone Rovers, Welsh Students; group 3, Sheffield Eagles, Warrington Wolves, Exeter University; group 4, South Wales Scorpions, University of Gloucestershire, Leeds Rhinos.

Winners of the All Golds Cup will go forward to the Carnegie Floodlit Nines at Headingley in August.

The Cheltenham (RL) Festival is held annually to commemorate the New Zealand All Golds’ 8-5 win against England in the racecourse town back in 1908 which clinched for the tourists the first ever rugby league Test series.

One of Oldham’s leading players at that time, former Gloucester RU forward Arthur Smith, played for England in his native West Country, hence the Roughyeds invitation to this year’s event.

“The rules demand that I take only 13 players,” said Hough, “but it will be great experience for the young lads. Accommodation has been arranged for us on Saturday night at Cheltenham Racecourse.

“We’ll take a lot out of the trip, both in terms of playing experience and team bonding on a weekend away.”

Taking the rough with the smooth, Hough’s boys will be rolling up their sleeves at Whitebank after training tonight (thurs) and helping volunteer fans to tackle ongoing work to get the stadium ready for Oldham’s first match there against York on May 9.

Those members of the squad not going to Cheltenham will also be working at Whitebank on Saturday.

“The boys are happy to do their bit,” added Hough, “because there is a lot to do and it’s important for the club that we start to play there as soon as possible.”

The club is running a supporters’ bus to Sedgley Park on Saturday night for the first-team game against Gateshead Thunder (7.30pm kick off). Cost is £5 and it will pick up at the Black Horse at 6.15pm and Mecca Bingo at 6.30. Bookings in advance to 0161 665 1832 or 0161 628 3677.

The club is selling £26 tickets for the Carnegie Challenge Cup final at Wembley in August at a cut-price £20.