Skipper Lewis’s ton-up

Date published: Friday, June 12, 2015

LEWIS Palfrey will use his 100th career appearance against Oxford on Sunday to thank fans for their continued support and to assure them the players are working harder than ever to haul themselves out of a sticky patch —- three defeats in four games.

While those defeats were by teams in League One’s northern powerhouse, Barrow, Keighley and North Wales, the Oldham captain warns that Oxford are also a team in form, having won four of their last six games and three of their last four.

They head the division’s ‘southern section’ and are only two points behind Barrow and York with a game in hand on the former.

But for last Sunday’s win at Whitebank by Crusaders, they would also have carried the distinction of being the last side to win a league game here in April, 2013 when Tony Benson’s team of former Oldham players edged a thriller 18-16.

All that has changed. Benson’s gone, his former Oldham men have gone with him and the side is now built around a nucleus of Yorkshire lads and coached by a man who has spent all his adult life associated with Castleford Tigers.

Tim Rumford (37) works full-time for Castleford on Community Trust projects, having coached their crack academy side in 2009 and 2010, developing players like Daryl Clarke, Ryan Brierley, Adam Milner and Oliver Holmes.

He also oversees a dual registration agreement with Bradford Bulls which last week saw Matty Blythe starring in the Oxford second row in their fourth league win against South Wales.

Living in Castleford and having worked for the Super League club in various capacities for many years, not to mention his time as coach of York amateurs Heworth and assistant boss at Gateshead Thunder, Rumford knows the west Yorkshire rugby league scene like the back of his hand.

Several players from that area commute with him twice a week and again at weekends to form a 22-man squad, nearly half of them from the north.

Said Rumford: “We’ve got to balance the desire to meet development and expansionist ideals with fielding a side that is competitive and credible in a division that is getting tougher year on year.

“We can’t afford to play southern boys just because they tick the right boxes. My remit is to make Oxford credible at this level so local lads have to be in the side on merit and for no other reason.

“A realistic target for us is to finish where we are now — top of the southern group — but to do that we’re probably going to need to pick up some points against teams from up here.”

Palfrey knows that if his milestone game is to be one to remember, Oldham will need to play a lot better than they did in the first half at Keighley and in the first half against North Wales at Whitebank.

He said: “Underestimate a team like Oxford, and you do so at your peril. They had Matty Blythe last week, we don’t know who they might have this week. And most of the team will be northern lads who’ve been brought up in the game.

“Our preparation will be no different in intensity to how we will prepare for Swinton next week.

“Additionally this week, we’ve done a lot of video work to establish where we’ve been going wrong in the last few games.

“Hopefully, we’ve learned something individually and collectively that can be put to good use, starting with the Oxford game.

“We’re working hard to get back to where we were and I can assure fans that we are doing everything possible to give them what they deserve to have and that’s plenty of reasons to smile.

“We know we’ve been starting slowly and letting opponents build up big leads, and we are aware that our fans deserve better than that.

“Believe me, we are doing all we can to put things right and I’m sure we’ll turn things round, as we have done in the past.”

More than half of Palfrey’s 99 senior games have been in Oldham colours — most of them as captain of a young side that has played in the last two third-tier grand finals and last year took Hunslet into extra time before losing out to a golden-point drop goal. Agony.

Not surprisingly, he doesn’t rank those finals among his best memories over the last 99 games.

His best three ? Beating North Wales 28-10 at Whitebank in July, 2013 and last season’s play-off wins at Hunslet (25-24) and at York (31-12) which earned Roughyeds a place in the Headingley final from third position in the league table.

•With Fathers Day getting ever closer there will be gifts available at Whitebank on Sunday, such as replica jerseys (£45), tickets for the ORSA function at the game against York on July 5 (£7.50) and Craig Halstead’s new book “Watersheddings to Whitebank” (£11.95).