Hunslet Warriors preview

Date published: Tuesday, March 1, 2011

DARREN Robinson will always be part of Oldham RL folklore given that he was the second player to sign for the ‘new’ Roughyeds club in 1997.

John Hough, who has had an unbroken link with the club ever since, put pen to paper just a few hours before Robinson on the day a new Oldham Rugby team began to rise from the ashes of the old club’s liquidation.

It was December 2, 1997, and by the turn of the year the club in embryo had enough players on board to go to Rochdale for a Law Cup game — and win.

Teenager Robinson, a Leeds lad, was on the bench with Paul Round, Afi Leuila, Craig Diggle and Ian Sinfield and he was to play in nine of the Roughyeds’ first 11 games before making a little bit of club history for the second time by joining Rochdale Hornets and becoming the first player to be transferred out.

In the 12 years since then he has also played for Batley Bulldogs and Hunslet Hawks — and he has always relished the chance to test himself against the club that gave him his first break, often arousing the ire of Oldham fans.

He thought those days were over when, at the age of 31, he left the pro game behind to put something back with his local amateur club, Hunslet Warriors.

Then the third round draw for the 2011 Carnegie Challenge Cup paired the Warriors with Oldham at Whitebank — and Robbo couldn’t believe it.

“I’m sure I’ll get a nice, warm reception from the Oldham faithful on Sunday,” he said, as the Warriors prepared to play their part in another history-making event for the Roughyeds, staging the first-ever Challenge Cup tie to take place at the Whitebank Stadium.

Added Robbo: “I love playing for Warriors. We might be amateurs, but we are very competitive and we have a winning mentality. We’ve loads of ex-pro experience in the side too, and a few of the lads could still be playing pro if they chose to.

“We are having a fantastic season — one defeat in 21 games — and we’ll be going to Oldham with no pressure on us and determined to give it our best shot.”

A club with big ambitions, the Warriors are coached by Castleford Tigers and former Huddersfield and Wakefield star Paul Jackson, who has steered them to the top of NCL2, having dropped only one league point all season in a draw at Eastmoor Dragons.

Their only defeat, 6-18, came in the third round of the BARLA National Cup when they were toppled by NCL premier division giants Leigh East. They bounced back in the next game by hammering Shaw Cross Sharks 40-0.

Leading try scorer is centre Mark Cunningham, formerly with Batley and Hunslet, with 29 in 15 games — a remarkable return at any level of rugby.

Full-back Gary McClelland, an accomplished goalkicker, is one of those Robinson believes could be playing professionally, while loose-forward Caldon Bravo, once of Sheffield and Hull, leads from the front as captain and pack leader.

Half-back Jim Baker is another key man, a tackling machine who often tops 30 tackles from the scrum-half position and plays a leading role in shoring up the Warriors defence around the rucks.

Robinson has been playing stand-off in recent games, but he thinks he might be on the bench at Oldham, providing cover for both stand-off and hooker.

Said club publicity officer Pam Crosby: “Paul Jackson (coach) has some tough selection decisions to make for this one. He will pick from a squad of 20.

“They are nearly all local lads, many of whom have turned down the chance to join clubs with a higher profile so that they can help us to work our way through the NCL divisions.

“Before we were admitted into the second division last year we had enjoyed success in the Yorkshire League, winning the championship play-off.

“We lost 62-10 at Barrow Raiders in the same round of the Carnegie Challenge Cup last year. It was a terrific day out for our club and we hope to enjoy the Oldham experience just as much.”

Warriors, based in south Leeds, are currrent holders of the Ravensport Tough Tackle Trophy, a national competition to reward good tackling and sound defensive work based on the number of points conceded in league competition.

They hope to bring fans to Oldham by the bus load and expect to be cheered on at Whitebank by between 200 and 300 supporters. “We have a very loyal following,” added Pam, “and we are sure to have lots of vocal support.”

Hunslet Warriors (from): Gary McClelland; Aaron Niles, Mark Cunningham, Tony Swift, Chris Hartley; Mick Lyons, Jim Baker; Paul Sebine, Arron Pratt, Johnny Dawson, Mark Holmes, Omar Medhi, Caldon Bravo (capt); Liam Gale, Oli Graham, Karl Fatherstone, Darren Robinson, Joe Howey, Ryan Angus, Jason Milner.