Winter Training

Date published: Wednesday, December 21, 2011

AS the countdown begins to the start of the crucial 2012 Co-operative Championship One season, Oldham RL boss Tony Benson says he is delighted with a new-look squad that dovetails youthful exuberance with seasoned know-how.

From the players who were around at the end of last season Ben Heaton, Andy Isherwood, Marcus St Hilaire and loan duo Danny Bravo and Callum Casey have gone, while the future of scrum-half Carl Forber hangs in the balance.

Replacing them are new signings Danny Heaton, Paul Smith, Neil Rigby and Chris Murphy plus youngsters Jamie Dallimore, Danny Langtree, Dave Cookson, Michael Ward and Alex Thompson, who have been rewarded with senior contracts on the strength of their performances in last season’s trophy-winning under-23s side.

Half-back Dallimore and back-row forward Ward enhanced their reputations with several sound senior outings in 2011, but centre Cookson and forwards Langtree and Thompson will be breaking new ground when Benson opts to give them their chance at senior level.

Prop Bruce Johnson will also be regarded by Benson as a “new” player given that injury restricted him to only three reserve team outings last season following his capture from Swinton Lions.

Having propped for the Lions for several years, 27-year-old Johnson is one of the most experienced front-row men at this level of the sport — and in stark contrast to the end of last season Benson will have loads of experience in his engine room with Johnson, Danny Heaton, Jason Boults, David Ellison and Luke Stenchion all battling for starting spots in the front-row.

The latest signing, that of young full-back Murphy, takes the first-team squad to 28 in number, comprising 11 backs and 17 forwards.

Of the backs, utility man Mark Brocklehurst may miss the pre-season friendlies and possibly the start of the Northern Rail Cup campaign because he has suffered a broken thumb while playing for Oldham RU Club.

“The squad has come together nicely,” said Benson, “and pre-season training is going well. The new chaps have settled in well and the squad is bonding as a unit and looking good as a group.”

First up is the Law Cup clash with derby rivals Rochdale Hornets at Whitebank on Monday, January 2, kick-off 3pm when Hornets may also parade several new signings, including former Roughyeds Paul O’Connor and Chris Baines.