Fired-up Jason ready for big day

Date published: Friday, September 27, 2013

JASON Boults, senior citizen in Oldham’s fledgling squad, believes Scott Naylor’s boys will succeed where there predecessors failed in 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010.

Roughyeds have known nothing but play-off final heartbreak, stretching back to 2001, and prop-forward Boults has had his share of it, having played in the 2009 defeat by Keighley (28-26) and the following year’s 25-4 loss against York City Knights.

“I don’t want to go through that again,” said 30-year-old Boults, the only survivor from that awful day at Warrington in 2010 when Roughyeds were outplayed by a York side they had beaten with nine points to spare at Whitebank two weeks earlier.

Fast forward three years and the roles are reversed. This time Oldham are going into a final, just like York did, having been beaten by the same opponents in an earlier round.

Derby rivals Rochdale relied on a Paul Crook drop goal four minutes from the end to sneak home 23-22 in the semi-final at Whitebank — a setback from which, true to form, the Roughyeds’ class of 2013 responded positively by posting their biggest score of the season to hammer London Skolars 64-8.

Said Boults: “That was a top-drawer performance and it’s given us a lot of self-belief about the final.

“When we played Rochdale the week before we were a bit ring rusty after a month without a competitive game, and the awful weather didn’t help either.

“We’ve every reason to be confident — not too confident — because we’ve been the best team in the division all year, losing out to North Wales in the race for top spot only because we had a slow start. We were a new team and it took us a bit of time to gel. Other than that we would have gone up automatically.

“On a personal note it’s been my best season of the seven I’ve spent at the club. I missed five games half way through with a broken finger, and I had Michael Ward to thank for that. It happened in training. We were doing tackling techniques and Wardy’s knee smashed my finger in two places.

“Other than that it’s been a top-notch year.

“We’ve had first-class training and coaching from Scott and ‘Spanner’ (Lee Spencer); superb conditioning from Mike Hughes; and the use of fantastic facilities at Oasis.

“There’s been a different mind-set this year at the club and it’s certainly rubbed off on me.

“After mediocre seasons in 2011 and 2012 I was starting to wonder where my career was going and whether I was approaching the end.

“But what a change now. I’ve got my old enthusiasm back and it feels great.

“We are much more of a unit this year compared with previous years when some of the personalities didn’t quite fit into the jigsaw.

“I’m just about getting my head around the ‘senior citizen’ bit, but I’ve got to say how much I’m enjoying playing alongside the young blokes, who certainly keep me on my toes.

“They’ve something to prove and they are absolutely full of it. I’m having to fight for my place again, which is exactly how it should be.

“Most of the lads haven’t played in a final before, but they’re young enough and good enough to take it in their stride and I’m sure that’s what they’ll do.

“I suppose you could say I’ve seen it all before, but I still get that big-match buzz, not so much about the occasion, more about the desire to make sure you don’t let anybody down.”

Both teams believe the big, wide pitch at Leigh will suit them better — Hornets because they claim to play a more expansive game; Oldham because they feel they have a younger and more mobile set of forwards.

For the record, Hornets have won twice this season on the narrow confines of Whitebank while Roughyeds have triumphed twice at Spotland and have lost only once all season away from home. Read into that what you will.

Either way, much will depend on the battle of the packs and which one achieves the better go-forward to provide a platform for the respective play-makers and head-to-head rivals Lewis Palfrey and Paul Crook.

Crook outplayed Palfrey when Rochdale won narrowly at Whitebank a fortnight ago, but the Oldham skipper took it on the chin and bounced back with an outstanding man-of-the-match display against Skolars.

Interestingly, Oldham boast the top try scorer in league and play-off action (Jon Ford with 19) and the top goalkicker in Palfrey, who has 79 goals to his credit —seven more than Crook.

Having been beaten only twice in their last 15 outings — by two points and one point — Oldham deserve to win promotion to the Championship.

They’ve got the class to make it happen . . . and what a personal triumph that would be for Naylor in his first year at the club and in his first job as a head coach.