Crook sends Oldham round the bend
Date published: 16 September 2013
PAUL Crook’s master-class in kicking a rugby ball in wind and rain inflicted a painful blow to Oldham’s promotion prospects at a cold and drenched Whitebank.
Crook’s uncanny ability to plant the ball exactly where he wanted it, despite atrocious conditions, gave his side the vital edge in a 23-22 play-off triumph.
Rochdale, who finished nine points behind Roughyeds in the league, are now within 80 minutes of promotion - while Scott Naylor’s boys have to beat London Skolars at Whitebank next Sunday and then turn the tables on Hornets in the final to achieve their season’s objective.
Having been only one win short of automatic promotion, and having gone down here to a last-minute, long-range drop goal from Crook, Roughyeds will be choked by this latest setback.
To recover quickly and to be primed to perfection to go into battle with a tough and talented Skolars side in six days’ time, they will have to delve deep into their reservoirs of mental toughness and strength of character, which have served them well this year.
Naylor, post-match, refused to blame the month without a competitive game. But the lay-off can’t have done any good, and fans will be hoping this tough game will benefit the squad for an equally-demanding challenge against the Skolars.
One thing’s for sure; the Londoners don’t possess a Crook, who kicked with unerring accuracy all afternoon. He tormented Tom Whitehead and Mo Agoro with long field kicks which held up in-goal, while his two 40-20 first-half touch-finders against the wind were sheer class — low trajectory kicks to counteract the wind, the ball skidding at speed off the wet surface and finding touch just inside the corner flag.
Later, his kick across the face of goal, when off-balance and under pressure, set up Wayne English’s second-half try. And you can add to that two penalty goals from two attempts (one from just inside the Oldham half) and three conversions from three shots, five from five in total.
The killer was still to come, though – the drop goal with time running out fast, after Roughyeds had shown remarkable resilience to come back from 22-12 down to square things up with four tantalising minutes left.
Playing down the slope, Hornets were the stronger, more composed side after that when they forced Roughyeds into error and kept them locked in at the bottom end of the ground.
The visitors had taken a 14-6 interval lead after dropping behind to a Jon Ford try in the eighth minute.
Fighting back, Roughyeds scored three tries to one in the second half, the first by Kenny Hughes after Hornets had failed to deal with Palfrey’s teasing kick to the line and two more by winger Mo Agoro late on.
They never looked completely comfortable, however, and Hornets kept their noses in front for most of the half thanks to a second Crook penalty (harsh decisions on both occasions) and then Wayne English’s converted try.
Agoro’s double strike raised Oldham hopes; then Crook dashed them again.
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