Now Thompson puts pen to paper

Date published: Wednesday, October 16, 2013

PLEASED at the way next season’s squad is taking shape, Oldham RL boss Scott Naylor has described how a gamble on Liam Thompson a year ago paid rich dividends.

Previously with Wigan Warriors and Widnes Vikings, the one-time England schoolboys’ international arrived at Whitebank last autumn as a 20-year-old at the crossroads of a fledgling career and in need of a shoulder operation.

Twelve months on, and all the better for successful surgery, the young back-row forward has signed a new one-year contract, having produced enough stand-out performances in the second half of last season to become one of Naylor’s hottest properties.

Of the squad that finished one win short of automatic promotion before losing to Rochdale in the play-off final, Thompson is the seventh and youngest forward to pen a new deal.

Said Naylor: “We knew before we signed him in the first place that he had to have a shoulder repaired, but we were willing to take a bit of a chance.

“We knew him well enough to recognise that he would spare nothing in his fight to regain full fitness after his operation.

“He did that, and more. After missing the early part of the season, he went better and better and by the end of the season he was one of our best players.

“After a good pre-season — he missed the whole of last year’s prep work — he will continue to improve next year.

“Technically, he is excellent. People can easily overlook the fact that, like a lot of our players, Thommo was playing first-team senior rugby on a regular basis for the first time.

“He is skilful and his work rate is up with the best. I see him gaining in experience and going on to become a top-class loose-forward.”

Defeat in the final was Thompson’s third such disappointment. He was in a Wigan academy side beaten by Wakefield in a final and he was in a Widnes under-23s side beaten by John Hough’s Roughyeds’ under-23s side in a reserves final three years ago.

He said: “We learned a lot from last season’s disappointments. We were a newly-assembled squad with new coaches and we started slowly. Next year we’ll be out of the blocks a lot quicker.

“As for the final, I’ve only got bad memories of the biggest game of my career so far. That will motivate me to kick on and the other lads feel the same.

“Despite all that, I enjoyed my rugby last season more than at any other time since my amateur days and that was largely down to Scott (Naylor) and ‘Spanner’ (assistant boss Lee Spencer) and the great camaraderie we had in the dressing room.

“Because I missed most of the pre-season stuff and then the early games, I was behind the other lads in terms of bonding and forming friendships.

“But as I got to know everyone and made some great friends I grew in confidence and that helped me to play a lot better and find some of my real form, which I felt I carried through to the end of the season.”