Twin threat from dummy half

Date published: Friday, September 19, 2014
OLDHAM will be looking to the twin talents of their little hookers Gareth Owen and Kenny Hughes to boss the key ruck area in Sunday’s big play-off game at York.
The diminutive duo didn’t play when Roughyeds were thrashed 54-12 at the Huntington Stadium in July, but this time they will be key to Scott Naylor’s hopes of steering his side one step nearer to promotion and into the final at Leeds on October 5.
Sunday’s vanquished will get a second chance at home to the winners of Hunslet v Gateshead, but Oldham are in bullish mood and are not considering that as an option. They are going to York to win.
On their ill-fated last trip to the same venue, Hughes was out injured and, significantly, Owen wasn’t signed until the following week.
Hughes was to be out for five weeks with ankle and knee injuries, missing three games and returning for the home win against Hemel Stags on August 17.
Roughyeds have since won three of the four games in which he and Owen have shared the crucial dummy-half role, Owen starting and Hughes coming off the bench to keep the momentum going and to enhance his growing reputation as one to watch.
He had a terrific game in the 25-24 win at Hunslet in the last round and came close to matching half-back Steve Roper as man of the match.
Unlike new-boy Owen, on loan from Salford, Hughes is in his fourth season at Whitebank, having helped to guide the reserves to play-off finals in 2011 and 2012 alongside his fellow first-team players Steven Nield, David Cookson, Phil Joy, Danny Langtree and Michael Ward.
Hughes, 24 last weekend and once of St Helens academy, was used as a makeshift half-back for much of last season and played as Lewis Palfrey’s partner in the final defeat by Rochdale.
“I didn’t like it, but I struggled on and did my best,” he recalled. “I’m a lot happier at hooker. That’s my position. It’s where I’ve always played. It’s what comes naturally to me.
“And because I’m comfortable there, I think it helps my form.
“It was a blow to miss a few games through injury and it took me a couple of matches to feel at my best again. But I’m right now and I can’t wait for Sunday.
“I watched the last game up there and they made us have it, but we’ve already beaten them once, at home, and we can do it again on their patch if we play as consistently well over 80 minutes as we did at Hunslet.”
Oldham reported a clean bill of health at last night’s training session apart from Brett Robinson, who didn’t play at Hunslet because of damaged ankle ligaments.
The squad of 23 will comprise the 17 who did the club proud last week, plus Ben Wood, Mark Hobson, Sam Gee, Paddy Mooney, Danny Whitmore and Mo Agoro.
Roughyeds will wear their home kit in the club’s traditional colours of red and white hoops.