Gee-whiz, watch us go!Date published: Friday, August 7, 2015
ON-FIRE Oldham will be chasing their ninth win in a row at Hemel and of the other 37 clubs in Super League, the Championship and League One, only Halifax can beat that.
Outside of the Whitebank dressing room, Sunday’s game in leafy Hertfordshire (2.30pm start) will be seen as a banker win for Scott Naylor’s League One leaders, whose scalps since they were last beaten on June 7 have included York, Rochdale and Keighley at home and Swinton and North Wales on the road.
They are playing their best and toughest rugby for years, several rival coaches having referred in post-game interviews to the outstanding strength and power of the Roughyeds forwards and their ability to dominate and dictate.
There is no arrogance in the Oldham camp, but Naylor, his No 2 Lee Spencer and fitness guru Kane Daniels have instilled confidence, self-belief and a huge desire to maintain their high standards of the last two months in their pursuit of the ultimate prize — promotion.
The bulk of this team, then rookies in senior rugby, finished second in 2013 but failed to deliver on Grand Final day when well beaten by Rochdale.
A year later, having finished third, they stunned the two teams above them in the play-offs only to lose by the narrowest of margins, golden point in extra time, in the final against Hunslet.
Now in their third season together, the likes of Josh Crowley, Danny Langtree, Kenny Hughes, Michael Ward, Jon Ford, Phil Joy, Lewis Palfrey, Adam Files, Sammy Gee, Liam Thompson and Steven Nield are older, stronger and infinitely wiser.
Naylor would no doubt agree that he too has learned a lot in his three seasons at Whitebank, his achievements this year, in an extraordinarily competitive division which includes five teams who were in Championship rugby in 2014, surpassing all expectations.
Last year he brought in Steve Roper, George Tyson, Adam Clay and Gareth Owen, while Adam Neal, Jack Holmes and Tom Ashton were this season’s recruits, topped up on signing deadline day by Will Hope and Elliot Liku following Huddersfield’s decision to recall their loan and dual-reg men.
Several of his 2013 ‘originals’ are playing better than ever before and none more so than vice-captain Sammy Gee.
He has played outstandingly well in a variety of positions during the eight-match winning run, especially at full-back and loose-forward, while doing nothing wrong in the centre.
Dashing, determined and possessing boundless energy, action-man Gee is typical of what this Oldham side is all about.
Barring a Naylor decision to rest him, Gee will make his 100th career appearance at Hemel, having played 29 times for London Skolars, 13 times for Whitehaven and 57 times for the club he once described as the best he has ever played for.
It should be a magical milestone for the Roughyeds play-anywhere man, but Naylor will make sure that nobody in a Roughyeds jersey under-values the Stags.
They surely won’t, given that Hemel drew 20-20 at Whitebank last season and then followed up with a 44-32 win at their place.
Said Naylor: “We’ve put ourselves in a good position to finish in the top two and that was the aim before the season started.
“We’ve still got some tough games to come, starting with Hemel. They’ll be gunning for us, that’s for sure.
“We work hard, we’ve been playing well and we’ve put ourselves in a strong position.
“It would be a shame if we were now to make uncharacteristic mistakes and fail to finish the season the way we’ve been playing for the last couple of months.”