Cookson out of top clash

Date published: Friday, June 7, 2013
STAND by for Steven Nield’s return to first-team duty at centre in a match described by Oldham coach Scott Naylor as “the biggest of the season so far.”
Local boy Nield (22), in his first season of senior rugby, played in most of the early games up to and including the 36-0 win away to Gloucester All Golds eight weeks ago.

Danny Samuel and David Cookson were centres in the next game against Oxford at Whitebank and in the three outings since then, all ending in victory, Cookson and dual-registerd Jon Ford were the men charged with bringing out the best in wingers Dale Bloomfield and Mo Agoro.

The 19-year-old Ford, highly rated by Salford City Reds, keeps his spot in Sunday’s top-of-the-table Kingston Press Championship One clash against unbeaten leaders North Wales Crusaders at Wrexham (2.30pm kick off).

Cookson, however, is OUT of this first v third battle — a shock omission because he has declared himself “unavailable” due to a pressing social function this weekend in the south of England.

Although Naylor won’t name his line-up until later, Nield looks a banker bet to win back the jersey that many fans thought he was unfortunate to lose in the first place.

There won’t be many more changes, if any, although workaholic loose-forward Mark Hobson is back from holiday and pushing for a place in the 17.

Naylor will choose from 19.

Lepori, Agoro, Nield, Ford, Bloomfield, Palfrey, Hughes, Roden, Gilchrist, Boults, Gee, Files, Joy, Ward, Langtree, Crowley, Thompson, Bradley, Hobson.

Said the Roughyeds boss: “None of us has forgotten the 48-12 defeat at Wrexham in the Northern Rail Cup on the opening day of the season.

“It wasn’t so much our performance that hurt, it was the score.

“The boys will be going there again to show they are better than that and to show how they have come on in the ten games since — seven of them victories.”

Roughyeds are a considerably stronger side now, coaching staff and squad having developed in tandem over the past three months.

Team personnel shows plenty of changes, too.

Five who played at Wrexham on that depressing Sunday in early March, including two of the three dual-reg men who were given a run-out, won’t be around this time —- Niall Evards, Danny Samuel, Jamie Dallimore (he may be in the Crusaders side though), Will Hope and Jordan Walne.

Into the probable team as replacements come Steven Nield, Dale Bloomfield, Kenny Hughes, Phil Joy and Liam Thompson.

Although four points behind the leaders, Roughyeds can claim to be one of the form teams of the competition, having won four of their last five games and currently lining up second to Crusaders in terms of points for and points against.

Hooker Adam Files (20) has scored at least one try in each of Oldham’s last seven outings and throughout all three tiers of the sport only Wigan’s Josh Charnley can match that.

Files is joint second in the list of Championship One try scorers with seven and full-back Richard Lepori, with six, is  joint fifth.

By comparison, Crusaders head both try and goals charts, the former with second-row forward Gary Middlehurst on eight and the latter with full-back Tommy Johnson on 31 — nine more goals than Oldham captain Lewis Palfrey, who is joint second on 22.

Palfrey’s form with the boot could be crucial. He has kicked each of his last 14 conversions over two matches and  in tight games consistency on that level can make all the difference.

Crusaders coach Clive Griffiths has too much nous and experience to fall into the trap of thinking his men have only to turn up to beat Oldham easily a second time.

He said: “The other game counts for nothing. It is no reflection at all on what Oldham are at the moment.

“They’re a good side. Both hookers are decent players, as is Jon Ford from Salford in the centre. We’ll have to be wary of them.

“It’s going to be a big game and the outcome is probably more important to Oldham than it is to us because defeat would give them three league losses already and that would give them a mountain to climb.”

Like Naylor, Griffiths is saying little about his line up . . . or about Dallimore’s prospects of lining up against his former club.

With or without Dallimore, Crusaders have shown they are a formidable force at this level.

Can they be beaten ? Oldham believe they can.