Oldham 41 York City Knights 32

Date published: Monday, September 13, 2010

YES, we’ve done it! We’re in the Grand Final at the Halliwell Jones Stadium in Warrington on Sunday, September 26 after a thrilling 41-32 win against a defiant York City Knights side at Whitebank.
 
Heartiest congratulations go to all concerned, but it was significant that the players were not getting too excited after the game about the prospect of figuring once more in Championship rugby league’s biggest day of the year.
 
“We haven’t won anything yet,” said a matter-of-fact Tony Benson, no doubt mindful of the fact that this will be our fourth Grand Final appearance in a row.
 
Our opponents at Warrington will be either York or Blackpool Panthers, who beat Rochdale Hornets 32-22 for the right to take on the City Knights this coming weekend at the Huntington Stadium in the Minster city.
 
Roughyeds get a rest that weekend and Benson’s boys will go into the final after a weekend off for the first and only time since they reached the final at Headingley in 2007 and at the Halliwell Jones in 2008 and 2009.
 
To earn the short-cut they had to conquer York, and that was easier said than done.The Knights wore shining armour on this occasion and Roughyeds had to dig deep into their reservoir of team spirit, mental toughness and never-say-die attitude to overcome opponents who themselves did their club and their coach proud.
 
The result was a tremendous match which was a terrific advertisment for the sport at this level, with both teams producing high intensity rugby on both attack and defence.
 
The lead changed hands five times in the first half alone. Roughyeds trailed 18-16 at the interval, but they had the slope in their favour in the second half. Despite that, York increased their lead to 22-16 with the first of Lee Waterman’s two tries straight after the resumption and Roughyeds didn’t get their noses in front for the fourth and decisive time until Gregg McNally dropped a goal for a 23-22 advantage in the 67th minute.
 
Gregg won both the Co-operative man-of-the-match award, chosen by the Press, and the Oldham club’s man-of-the-match prize, notably for his six conversions and two penalty goals — eight out of eight — as well as an important drop goal, followed quickly afterwards by a touch of real class in which he chipped over the defence and regathered before sending Valu Bentley in by the sticks.
 
Prop Wayne Kerr, who also had a big game, won the champagne-moment award for his 60th-minute try which put us back in the game at 22-22 after York had dominated the first 20 minutes of the second half.
 
McNally, Kerr, Bentley and two-try Joe Chandler were the stand-out Oldham performers on a day when Roughyeds didn’t hit their best form but still ground out a victory on the back of that magnificent team spirit for which our squad is renowned.
 
York had heroes of their own and none more so than centres Lee Waterman and Ian Bell and strong-running second-row man Ryan Esders, all of whom ran strongly on the distribution of stand-off Chris Thorman.
 
Thorman and Neil Roden did similar jobs and it was difficult to split them, both playmakers being directly involved in the build-up to several tries and Thorman going over for one himself near the end.
 
Oldham had to mount a massive rearguard action in the first 20 minutes of the second half when York had most of the ball and most of the good field position, but had only one try in that period, by Waterman, to show for all their pressure. The visitors missed three good chances down their right side, mainly because Esders and Bell were not able to finish and execute as powerfully and as clinically as they had done in the first 40.
 
York led 18-16 at half-time with tries by Bell and Esders (2), plus three conversions by Waterman against two penalty goals by McNally, tries by Chandler and Danny Whitmore and two McNally conversions.
 
Chandler scored when Neil Roden hoisted a towering kick to the corner. John Gillam soared high into the air and knocked the ball backwards and Chandler scooped it up to race over near the posts.
 
Roden also figured prominently in the Whitmore try. The stand-off broke up the middle and the ball was sent left via Chandler to Gillam, who hacked on. The rebound off a defender found Whitmore, who needed no invitation to romp over for his side’s second try.
 
To concede to Esders on the stroke of half-time was a blow to Roughyeds, but there was worse to follow when Waterman crashed in for York’s fourth try with the second half only two minutes old.
 
For the next 20 minutes Oldham were under severe pressure, but they scrapped it out to remain only six points in arrears. Waterman failed to convert his own try and then kicked wide with a penalty — misses which lifted Oldham and enabled them to level at 22-22 when Kerr stretched over for his side’s third try in the 60th minute.
 
Roughyeds by now were taking advantage of the slope against tiring opponents and they got into position from which McNally gave them the lead again with his drop goal.
 
Minutes later the young Cumbrian produced his master-craftsman move to set up the Bentley try, adding the goal for good measure, and Oldham were on their way.
 
Temporarily reeling on the ropes, York had no answer to Oldham’s victory surge and within minutes of Bentley going over, Chandler was following him in for the home side’s fifth try, courtesy of a well rehearsed move with Roden as the pivot.
 
Roughyeds now led 35-22 and it looked all over, but York refused to lie down and it was Oldham’s turn to reel and stagger when Thorman and Waterman scored quick tries to cut the home lead to 35-32.
 
Matty Ashe’s long restart kick was fumbled by Jack Stearman, however, and that gave Oldham the field position from which Ashe glided away from dummy half to pop up a short ball which saw Chris Clarke crashing over for a try on the final play of a pulsating play-off encounter.
 
Ashe, coming off the bench early in the second half, enjoyed spells at both loose-forward and at hooker and didn’t look out of place in either.
 
Scorers: Oldham — goals, McNally (8); drop goal, McNally; tries, Chandler (2), Whitmore, Kerr, Bentley, Clarke; York — goals, Waterman (4); tries, Bell, Esders (2), Waterman (2), Thorman.
 
Oldham: O’Connor; Onyango, St Hilaire, Fogerty, Gillam; N Roden, McNally; Kerr, M Roden, Clarke, Chandler, Heaton, Bentley. Subs: Ellison, Boults, Whitmore, Ashe.
 
York: Ratcliffe; Reittie, Bell, Waterman, Wilson; Thorman, Stamp; Freer, Lee, Benson, Ross, Esders, Hardbottle. Subs: Lewis, Dinsdale, Haynes, Stearman.
 
Referee: R Laughton (Barnsley); Attendance: 1,275 (Whitebank record).