Match preview

Date published: Saturday, June 23, 2012

A LOT will be riding on the young shoulders of Oldham new boys Daniel Smith and Colton Roche in tomorrow’s (Sunday) big rugby league derby clash at Whitebank.

Front-row forward Smith (19) and back-row man Roche, who was 19 today, are ready to be thrown in at the deep end by Tony Benson as Roughyeds bid to avenge their 18-10 defeat at Rochdale on Good Friday.

Roche, who played for England at under-16s level, had an impressive debut in the Roughyeds’ 30-28 defeat at North Wales Crusaders last time out, but he will face a sterner test in his first game at Whitebank against a Hornets side going for the double.

Smith, also here from Leeds Rhinos on dual registration, won England Academy honours only last year, but this will be his first taste of rugby outside of age-group competition or, as he puts it, “against men”.

For the first time in weeks Benson will have the luxury of choice when naming his line-up.

Chris Clarke and Shaun Robinson are still on the injured list, but the Roughyeds boss is “reasonably optimistic” that Alex Thompson, Paul Smith, Paul Noone and Lucas Onyango will be cleared to play.

With those players back in the mix, as well as the players who were recruited when the injury crisis was at its worst, Benson acknowledges that he will have some tough decisions to make.

He said: “The selection slate has been wiped clean. I have more players available than I have had for weeks and I am going to have a selection headache . . . but a very welcome one.

“At last there is real competition for places, and we are no longer running around trying to find players.

“With most of the injured back in contention, I am reasonably confident we can start to turn things round.

“We’ve trained well for two weeks since our last game and everyone seems to be refreshed and eager to go. Rochdale are always a difficult side to play against, but our preparations couldn’t have gone any better.”

Hornets, who haven’t played for three weeks, are also back to something like full strength.

Stephen Roper will play his first game for three months at half-back, while Dean Gorton, Steve McDermott, Phil Braddish and Dave Newton are also back after injury.

Said coach John Stankevitch: “Roper’s return is a huge boost because he has a fantastic partnership with Paul Crook. They talk, they are enthusiastic and a lot can come from them.

“We can’t wait for the game. We expect a typically uncompromising derby. We always seem to raise our game in this sort of situation, but I can’t remember us winning at Whitebank in my time at the club.”

A party of ex-Oldham players, headed by post-war appearance record holder Martin Murphy, will be introduced to the crowd at half-time.