London v Oldham

Date published: Tuesday, August 31, 2010

THE Roughyeds’ 48-18 win at London Skolars on Friday night gave Tony Benson’s boys ten wins from all ten away games in Co-operative Championship One — and had club officials spending their Bank Holiday weekend pouring over the record books.

Has an Oldham side done that before? It would appear not. The belief is that in the 134 years since the original Oldham RL Club was formed in 1876, this is the first time Roughyeds have achieved a 100 per cent success rate on their travels throughout the season in league competition.

For the record, the wins in question were at Swinton (38-20), Hunslet (29-16), Hornets (22-16), South Wales (22-16), Doncaster (46-26), Workington (28-16), Gateshead (68-10), Blackpool (24-22), York (33-18) and London Skolars (48-18).

The victories early in the season at Hunslet, who went on to become champions, and late in the campaign at Blackpool, who would have finished third but for a ten-point deduction for irregularities, were especially impressive.

“It really is a pretty big achievement, isn’t it?” remarked coach Tony B. “We had it all to do at London on Friday night. They are a decent side and they made it difficult for us at times after our long drive down there. But we were well prepared mentally, and we have been consistent in that all through the year.”

Added chairman Chris Hamilton: “This is a fantastic achievement by Tony and his squad. It’s a record that can never be beaten — only equalled.

“They have, without doubt, left an indelible impression on the historic footprint of the club and it’s something of which they can be exceedingly proud.

“Although we finished three points behind the champions in second place we were 13 points ahead of the rest and that in itself is a massive achievement given that everyone outside of Tony, myself and the players themselves thought at the start of the season that we would struggle.”

Having finished only three points behind champions Hunslet and having beaten the Hawks at the South Leeds Stadium as well as completing a league double over fancied Blackpool Panthers, Oldham were fully deserving of their second-place finish and their runners-up status, which gave them pole position in the play-offs.

Starting well, Roughyeds raced into an early 18-0 lead against the Skolars in front of the biggest crowd of the season at the New River Stadium — 1,375.

They failed to maintain their high standards of the first quarter, however, and coming up to the hour mark they led only 24-18, at which point Skolars looked certain to equalise before Mark Brocklehurst pulled off a superb, try-saving tackle on home full-back Neil Thorman.

That was, without question, the turning point. It lifted Roughyeds, knocked the stuffing out of the Skolars — and set the scene for the visitors to re-establish their grip and to score another four tries without reply.

Brocklehurst and Ben Heaton, both coming off the bench, spent much of the game in the centres after Marcus St Hilaire and Mick Fogerty picked up shin and knee injuries respectively.

The last thing Roughyeds needed, with a play-off semi-final coming up against York City Knights at Whitebank on Sunday week, September 12 (3.00pm kick off) was an injury pile-up and they appeared to come through relatively unscathed although St Hilaire, Fogerty, Heaton (poke in the eye) and two-try winger John Gillam (calf) will be monitored closely over the next few days.

Said Tony B: “Mick Fogerty’s knee injury didn’t appear to be as serious as first thought. We decided not to send him back on but that was more of a precautionary measure. Of the two, Marcus with his shin injury looked to be in the worst shape.

“We weren’t sure what exactly happened, but Mick felt he had been tripped when he was running back off the ball, which is very frustrating.”

With a couple of weeks in which to prepare his side to face York, Tony will be hoping all four will be ready to stake a claim as well as others who didn’t travel to London because of injury such as Jason Boults, Ian Hodson, Luke Sutton and Craig Robinson.

Neil Roden didn’t make the trip, either, but that was to give the stand-off a well-earned rest, partially because he had been working nights in his full-time job for the prison service.

Matty Ashe and Gregg McNally were the halves on Friday and they scored 24 points between him — half the side’s total — as well as directly fashioning several of the eight tries.

Ashe, kicking superbly, landed six goals from as many attempts, including two off the left-hand touchline to convert each of Gillam’s brace of touchdowns.

McNally chipped in with two conversions — the first of them a gem off the right-hand touchline — and the last two tries of the night, one of them from a long-range interception.

Other tries were scored by Valu Bentley, Paul O’Connor, Heaton and Chris Clarke, who began the game in the front-row alongside Wayne Kerr and Martin Roden.

The game threatened to blow up on two or three occasions and referee Tim Roby pulled out the yellow card for Oldham’s O’Connor and London forward Oliver Bloom after Neil Thorman had scored the home side’s second try on the half hour.

Fogerty clearly took exception to another incident in which he fell awkwardly and damaged a knee while nowhere near the ball and then, late in the game, London stand-off Jymel Coleman was sin-binned for dissent.

Bentley crashed in from close range on Martin Roden’s flat pass to open the scoring and only five minutes later O’Connor carved up London’s left-side defence to sell a dummy and touch down in the corner.

When Gillam scored the third Oldham try in the 14th minute thanks to a perfectly-weighted Ashe kick to the corner no one could have foreseen the fightback that was to follow.

Roughyeds had done everything right up to that point, but once mistakes began to creep into their play and Skolars got more ball and more good field position they had the visitors in a spot of bother.

Austen Aggrey scored first after a rare O’Connor misfield of a difficult kick and when Neil Thorman scored a second Skolars try, the game had been turned on its head.

Heaton took off some of the pressure with a great try on McNally’s inside ball straight from a midfield scrum, but Skolars kept plugging away and again got to within one score of the visitors when Olly Purslow crossed near the posts.

With Roughyeds defending desperately now, and Skolars apparently gaining in confidence by the minute, the visitors owed much to Brocklehurst’s all-important try-saving tackle on Neil Thorman.

With that, the balance of power swung back to Oldham and they finished in a canter with further tries by Clarke, off Danny Whitmore’s flat ball; by Gillam on another crossfield kick by Ashe; by McNally with an interception; and by McNally again on a defence-splitting pass from close range.

Astonishingly, Roughyeds enjoyed a run of nine consecutive penalties in the second half — 16-8 overall — as Skolars badly lost their way and lost their composure.

The teams had lined up like this:

Skolars: N Thorman; Adebisi, Paxton, Cook, Junor; Coleman, P Thorman; Ball, Gee, Simon, Thomas, Bloom, Aggrey. Subs: Purslow, Sykes, Honor, Pascall.

Oldham: O’Connor; Onyango, St Hilaire, Fogerty, Gillam; Ashe, McNally; Kerr, M Roden, Clarke, Walker, Chandler, Bentley. Subs: Ellison, Heaton, Whitmore, Brocklehurst.

Referee: Tim Roby (Leyland); Att: 1,375.

Tony B said afterwards: “Skolars had a lot to play for and we still recall Boundary Park under lights last season when they held us to a 28-22 win — and they are a better side now than they were then.

“It was a tough game physically tonight and we spent half time talking about what was going on towards the end of the half (when Skolars scored twice and O’Connor was sin-binned).

“It got a bit rough and we rose to it and moved away from our game, which is just what they were trying to achieve. Once we got back into our game we were fine.

“We slipped away a bit after a very good start. Coming up to half time there were gaps everywhere in London’s defence, but some players got too excited, lost their heads and went for every hole that appeared instead of sticking to what we had been doing, and dooing well.

“Our defence was pretty good throughout the game and it was just as well because London attack well and they have some bigk strong boys.”