Mates v mates, cousin v cousin

Date published: Tuesday, April 23, 2013

COUSIN v cousin, mates v mates . . . and coach Tony Benson pitting his wits for the first time against the club he coached for almost four years.

Oldham’s clash at Whitebank on Sunday (3pm) with Benson’s rugby league new boys Oxford promises to be just as impassioned and intense as any family feud.
This time last year Benson was Roughyeds’ boss while players Valu Bentley, David Ellison, Martin Roden, Chris Clarke, John Clough, Tommy Connick, Lucas Onyango, Alex Thompson and Sean Robinson were battling to keep Oldham in the top half of Championship One.
Most of those, if not all, will be treading familiar turf at Whitebank on Sunday, but this time emerging from the away team’s dressing room, having followed Benson to pastures new in the unlikely setting of the city of dreaming spires.
“It will be the strangest game I’ve ever played in,” said Oldham’s long-serving half-back Neil Roden, who is preparing for his 294th appearance in the Roughyeds jersey and going head to head with opponents whom he classes as “real good mates.”
Among them will be his cousin Martin Roden, who finished last season as Oldham’s caretaker boss, but later moved on when Benson’s successor, Scott Naylor, brought in his own No 2, his former Salford colleague Lee Spencer.
Of all the players in Oldham jerseys, none will know the Oxford team better than Neil Roden, who captained most of their players for two years and some of them for three.
He added: “I suppose it’s just another game really. Once we kick-off they’ll be doing their best to win and so will we. We’ll be opponents for 80 minutes and then, no matter who wins, we’ll have a couple of drinks together in the bar after the game.
“I have a lot of time for those lads and over the last year or two we’ve been through a lot together, so I certainly don’t wish ¬†them any harm.
“So long as we beat them home and away and finish higher in the league than they do, I hope they do well, for Tony’s (Benson’s) sake and for the lads I know so well.
“We haven’t focused too much yet on the Oxford game — that will start at training tonight — but Martin (his cousin) doubles up as player and conditioner there, as he did here, and he will certainly have them fit.
“Oxford’s northern-based players train up here early in the week and go down there to train together as a team on Thursday nights.
“Martin says he is enjoying the challenge, but other than that we haven’t talked much about it and we certainly haven’t discussed Sunday’s game.”
Neil, who turned 33 earlier this month, will hang up his boots at the end of this season and he would love nothing better than to bid farewell as part of a promotion-winning squad.
“That would be fantastic,” he said, “but at my age you can only take it one game at a time so I’m not looking beyond Oxford.”
+ The Junction Inn, Ripponden Road is laying on transport to Whitebank and back for the under-20s game against Featherstone on Friday night (8pm kick off) and the Oxford game on Sunday (3pm kick off), leaving at 7pm and 2pm respectively.
Cost in each case is £2.50, seats to be booked on 0161 633 2759, before 8pm Thursday for the under-20s game and 3pm Saturday for the Oxford match.