Valu poised for Oxford return

Date published: Tuesday, April 29, 2014
OXFORD boss Tony Benson is expected to stoke up the tension at Whitebank on Sunday by playing each of his five former Oldham players.
Benson’s pumped-up Blues rattled Roughyeds in the corresponding fixture last year, winning 18-16 on the New Zealander’s first visit to Whitebank since he and Oldham parted company in 2012.
Oldham put the record straight with an impressive 22-4 triumph at Oxford two months later on their way to a second-place finish in Championship One with 12 wins from 16 outings compared to Oxford’s five.
That home defeat by a team packed full of Oldham old boys still rankles, however, and Scott Naylor’s men will be keen to see it doesn’t happen again.
Oxford have reshaped their squad in this their second season at this level, having parted company with many northern-based players including five ex-Oldham favourites in John Clough, Lucas Onyango, Martin Roden, Shaun Robinson and Danny Halliwell.
But five more who worked under Benson at Whitebank are still with him in the city of dreaming spires — half-back Tommy Connick and forwards Chris Clarke, Alex Thompson, Valu Bentley and David Ellison.
They have helped the new-look Blues to make an impressive start with three wins from five league games, beating London Skolars and Gloucester at home and causing the entire division to sit up with a shock 24-16 win at fancied York.
They come to Whitebank seeking their third win in a row and with boss Benson endorsing their potential to go from strength to strength.
“We are starting to establish ourselves now at this level,” he said. “Performances are improving week by week and the players are growing in confidence all the time.
“We’re using predominantly local players now — Ed Hayles, for instance, is a stockbroker —- and the win at York was a huge pointer to what we can achieve. Exciting times are ahead, I think.”
Bentley missed the win against Gloucester because of injury, but he is expected to be back on duty at Whitebank along with Glenn Osborn and Andrew Hoggins.
Brett Robinson, now at Oldham, was Oxford’s stand-off last season, but that key pivotal role is now filled by 20-year-old Jimmy Rowland, a product of Warrington Wolves academy.
Others to impress this season include pacy, six-try full-back Sean Morris and new recruit Michael Crabtree, a winger boasting five tries, three of them against Hunslet Hawks.
Two Irishmen, Matty Hadden and John James Baird, are looking good in the pack alongside the likes of Clarke, Thompson, Bentley and Ellison.
Said to be in a rich vein of form, robust prop Hadden was in Ireland’s World Cup squad last year while second-row man Baird, once of Antrim Eels, played for Ireland ‘A’ in last season’s four nations tournament.
Oldham’s young prop Paddy Mooney will be in for treatment tonight on the leg injury that kept him out of the under-20s game at Sheffield on Saturday.
The club’s medical staff will also be monitoring the progress of hooker Adam Files in his ongoing fight to overcome a knee injury.