Roughyeds waiting for Ford verdict

Date published: Friday, September 13, 2013

SCOTT Naylor’s team selection for Sunday’s eagerly-awaited play-off semi-final with Rochdale at Whitebank (3pm kick off) will hinge on the fitness of top try scorer Jon Ford.

The 19-year-old centre hasn’t played since he dislocated an elbow at London Skolars on August 4, but he’s been engaged in full-contact training this week, thus raising hopes that he will be ready for a return to big-match action.

Naylor will give him as long as possible to prove his fitness, but the final decision will be made jointly by the player and by Salford’s medical team.

Fifteen-try Ford has been seconded to Roughyeds for much of this season on loan or dual registration and he remains Salford’s player.

“That’s why it’s their decision,” said the Oldham boss. “I’ll go along with whatever they decide, but Jon himself will have a big say in it, of that I’m sure.”

If Ford is cleared, he’ll play. In that event, Josh Crowley, who deputised for him at left centre in the last two games of the regular season, would almost certainly go back to his preferred position in the second-row, alongside Danny Langtree.

That would further add to Naylor’s selection headache . . . who do you omit when all your forwards are fit and bursting to play in the biggest game of the season so far.

Prop Liam Gilchrist was left with a pulled hamstring after the 30-25 win at Rochdale in Oldham’s last league game on August 15, but he is fully fit now and is one of five front-rowers in contention — Phil Joy, Gilchrist, Jason Boults, Matthew Haggarty and Michael Ward.

That leaves Langtree, Mark Hobson, Liam Thompson, Chris Clarke and maybe Crowley all vying for back-three or bench spots, at least one of which will go to a replacement hooker, probably Adam Files, and perhaps two more to replacement props.

Said Naylor: “I’ve got some tough decisions to make, but rather that than having headaches of the other kind when players are injured.”

Rochdale are making a lot of the fact that Roughyeds have not had a competitive game for a month, but Naylor, his assistant Lee Spencer and conditioner Mike Hughes have planned meticulously over the last four weeks to give the players the best possible chance of competing on level terms.

Said skipper Lewis Palfrey: “Our preparations have been first class. To play in a final would be a massive boost for the players and for the club, but we can’t afford to get bogged down with the importance of the game.

“We’ve got to go out there and do a job, just like we’ve been doing all season.

“We’re a young squad — average age 22 — and at the start of the season nobody gave us a chance, so it would be a fantastic achievement to get to the final.

“We get a second chance if things go wrong in this one, but to be honest we’ve not even thought about losing. All our thoughts are on performing as well as we can to book our place in the final.

“We’ve beaten them three times this season so that gives us confidence, but at the same time it means they will be out to put the record straight. It works both ways.

“We’ve got momentum behind us in terms of a good run of results, but we’ve got to be ready for a battle.”

Oldham won 22-20 at Rochdale in the pre-season Law Cup and followed up with a 26-10 win at Whitebank in the Northern Rail.

Three weeks later, on Good Friday, Rochdale were back at Whitebank on the opening day of the league season when they won 28-18 — a loss Roughyeds avenged with a 30-25 triumph at Spotland last month.

Oldham boast the longest unbeaten run in all three professional divisions (nine games spread over three months), but Hornets claim to be hitting the straps at just the right time after an awful mid-season spell in which a run of six away games in a row coincided with a huge injury list.

Danger men ? Ice-cool stand-off Paul Crook and the evergreen Chris Hough, an Oldhamer by birth and a fierce competitor who always reserves his best for derby day.

Crook’s head to head with Palfrey, as goalkickers and play-makers, will count for a lot, as will Oldham’s ability to counter Hough’s experience in the heat of battle.

While Hornets are hoping influential skipper and full-back Wayne English will be fit after injury, Oldham will be looking to a big performance from their own man at the back, Richard Lepori.

Lepori can be a match-winner, but he will first need his young pack to provide the go-forward and momentum up front, as they have all season.

It promises to be a cracker.