F-Factor can be decisive

Date published: Friday, July 26, 2013
YOUNGSTERS Jon Ford and Adam Files will be relishing the prospects of crossing the Crusaders try line in Sunday’s top-of-the-table clash at Whitebank.

Here on loan and/or dual registration, the Salford City Reds pair have already this season made a habit of scoring against the Wrexham-based Welsh side which boasts the best defensive record in Championship One by a country mile.

Centre Ford, a talented 19-year-old, and 20-year-old Files, a hooker who’s as slippery as an eel when attacking from dummy half, each scored a try when Oldham took a 48-12 Northern Rail Cup pasting in North Wales on the opening day of the season in March.

Three months later, on June 9, Roughyeds showcased their remarkable improvement over the course of coach Scott Naylor’s first season at Whitebank by returning to The Racecourse in the league and giving the then runaway league leaders the fright of their lives.

Crusaders snatched it 22-20, but each side scored four tries and Roughyeds would have earned a well-deserved draw had Lewis Palfrey’s conversion attempt off the touchline, the last kick of the match, sailed home instead of passing narrowly wide of the far post.

Ford and Files, the F-force, were again among Oldham’s try scorers on a day when Naylor’s young outfit underlined their credentials as serious challengers for promotion after seven years in the sport’s third tier.

That was five games ago, and Roughyeds have taken a maximum 15 points from those games against South Wales, Gateshead and Oxford on the road and Hemel Stags and South Wales at Whitebank.

They have also taken advantage of a strange fixture formula, which saw Crusaders without a league game for three Sundays, to grab a two-point lead at the top of the table, although the Welsh have two games in hand.

Not too long ago you couldn’t have got a bet on Crusaders lifting the title, but their shock defeat at Hemel, during a wonderful spell by Roughyeds which saw them harvest 29 points from a possible 33, has at least opened things up sufficiently to give the youngest squad in the division a sniff.

Rising from the ashes of a failed Super League club, and perhaps similar to Roughyeds in that regard, the new Crusaders are in their second season of Championship One rugby and, so far, are unbeaten in games against the Whitebank outfit.

In 2012, their first season, they won 36-32 at Whitebank and 30-28 at The Racecourse.

On Sunday, they will be pushing to make it three wins from three this year, having become the first winners of the Northern Rail Bowl with a 42-24 win against London Skolars at Halifax last Saturday.

Unlike Oldham, for whom Naylor has pinned enormous faith in youth and exuberance, Crusaders have built this year’s team around experience and nous, coach Clive Griffiths going for much-travelled journeymen like Dave McConnell, Gary Middlehurst, Andy Gorski and 35-year-old Ryan Macdonald.

The icing on the cake came with the capture of classy middle back Stuart Reardon from French club Carcassonne — a player with more than 150 Super League games for Bradford, Warrington and Salford on his CV.

He also had a brief spell with the Crusaders’ Super League club and it was that connection which gave Griffiths a head start in the multi-club race for Reardon’s signature when it was known he was heading back from France.

The season had moved into its second month, April, when Oldham’s Jamie Dallimore announced he wanted a fresh start elsewhere.

Working on the principle that an unsettled player was no good to anybody, Roughyeds released him. He was courted by Rochdale and Workington, but to the surprise of many pundits he ended up at Wrexham, where he has formed a lively-looking half-back pairing with Andy Moulsdale.

Man of the match in last week’s Bowl win, Moulsdale was picked up from the amateur game — as was another major threat, the pocket-battleship forward Jono Smith.

Aged 25, small but chunky (95 k), Smith’s physique is far removed from that normally associated with the modern-day rugby forward. Don’t be fooled. He’s strong, skilful and enormously talented in slipping an offload.

He is, undoubtedly, one of several danger men in a Crusaders side that has averaged more than 38 points a match in its ten league games to date.

Interestingly, perhaps playing mind games, coach Griffiths has claimed that Oldham are favourites to win the league and to go up automatically.

Describing Sunday’s game as “massive”, he added: “The winners will be in the box seat. We won’t suffer a Bowl hangover because that’s behind us and it’s business as usual now.

“We will pay Oldham the respect they deserve. They’re top of the league and favourites to win it — they always have been.”

Tongue-in-cheek, perhaps.

But one thing IS for sure. There are a couple of F words he won’t want to hear about come 4.30pm Sunday . . . Ford (13 tries this season) and Files (12 tries).