New boys in squad

Date published: Friday, May 2, 2014
OLDHAM new boys Steve Roper and Nathan Mason are among 22 players from whom Scott Naylor will name his side to face Oxford.
Though stopping short of confirming the new arrivals’ inclusion in the final 17, Naylor has promised changes in the wake of a disappointing performance at Hunslet Hawks.
He won’t show his hand until training tomorrow, but he has no shortage of options given that everyone is fit apart from Liam Thompson, Paddy Mooney and Adam Files.
None of those played at Hunslet, so the Oldham boss will be picking from that line-up plus Brett Robinson, Steven Nield, Edwin Okanga-Ajwang, Roper and Mason.
Scrum-half Roper (27) and prop Mason (20), both recruited initially on month-long loan deals, are itching to be involved at Whitebank on Sunday (3pm kick off) in what promises to be one of the most compelling contests of the season.
A former Rochdale team mate of Mark Hobson and Dale Bloomfield, Wigan-born Roper can’t wait to put on an Oldham jersey for the first time.
“I’m in my sixth season at Spotland, but I’m really excited at the prospect of playing for Oldham and showing what I can do,” said the man who had a key role to play for Hornets in their Grand Final victory over Naylor’s men at the end of last season.
Roper’s recruitment, added to Robinson’s omission at Hunslet, is a clear indication that Naylor wants more from his half-backs than he has witnessed in the five league games so far.
He has been less concerned about his forwards, but such was the impact Mason made in his four games here last year that Naylor couldn’t get on the phone fast enough when he discovered Huddersfield were willing to loan him out again and that the boy fancied another stint with his home-town club.
His arrival also compensates for the temporary loss of Mooney, whose back injury could keep him out for three weeks or more.
It means Naylor still has five good props at his disposal in Jason Boults, Phil Joy, Michael Ward, Alex Davidson and Mason —- a front-row designed to defeat the likes of Chris Clarke, Matty Hadden and David Ellison in the key battle of the heavies.
Said the Oldham coach: “We need to get back to playing good rugby again for 80 minutes.
“We were extremely consistent last season and that’s something else we need to strive for. Things are bound to go wrong sometimes, but when they do we have to get over them quickly and go back to good, solid rugby.
“The boys know I wasn’t happy with their performance at Hunslet, but they have taken things on board and responded positively.
“I can’t knock them for their hard work and commitment in their efforts to move on from Hunslet, but I’m going to make a few changes nevertheless.”
Oxford, seeking their third win in a row and a repeat of last year’s Whitebank victory, will again be without the injured Valu Bentley, Glen Osborn and Sean Morris.
“Confidence is growing,” said coach Tony Benson. “We’re starting to form good habits and we’re a better team than we were last year.
“To maintain that improvement, we’ve got to focus on ourselves, rather than the opposition, and make sure we play to our strengths.
“You can easily get misguided by trying to focus on the opposition too much. We will concentrate on OUR game and if it isn’t good enough, it isn’t good enough.”
Oldham (from): Agoro, Bloomfield, Boults, Cookson, Crowley, Davidson, Gee, Hobson, Hughes, Joy, Langtree, Mason, Nield, Okanga-Ajwang, Palfrey, Robinson, Roper, Tyson, Ward, Whitehead, Whitmore, Wood.
Oxford: Parker, Mulkeen, Brooker, Crabtree, Rice, Connick, Clarke, Thompson, Hadden, Baird, Blaney, Davies, Ellison, Hayles, Sharratt, Rowland, Hoggins, Morris, Blewitt, Newton.
Oldham under-20s play North-East Academy at Whitebank tomorrow (2.30pm). Only two over-age players are permitted in games involving the regional Academy squads and the home side’s two are full-back Sam Singleton and prop Rhys Wareing.
Team: Singleton; Buckley-Mayall, Partington, Fitzsimmons, Sargeant; Dempsey, J Hughes; B Roden, Ball, Wareing, Turner, A Joy, R Joy. Subs: Flanagan, Barratt, Boardman, Wilson.