Reporter: Ahead of schedule by Roughyeds coach TONY BENSON
Date published: 11 March 2009
YOUR GUIDE TO THE NEW LEAGUE SEASON
WITH the league season set to begin, we are quite possibly ahead of where I envisaged us being before the Northern Rail Cup campaign got under way.
There are a number of different phases we have had to go through since I arrived at the club. The first of those — getting the players physically ready for the season — we have done, very successfully too.
The next step is getting together some continuity within the team. In the NRC, the side has been chopped and changed around quite a lot and there is a reason behind that.
Basically, I was trying to figure out what were our best combinations in a variety of different positions.
Right now, I have reached the point where I have a good idea of what they are. Hopefully, that means we will gain more stability in terms of the team that lines up on the field — which will, in turn, help to produce some more consistent performances from us as a whole.
Looking at the competition in Co-operative Championship One, the bookmakers have us down as favourites along with Dewsbury, with York and Keighley just behind. It is quite difficult to tell right now where we are in comparison with those sides, seeing as we haven’t met any of them as yet.
But Blackpool will certainly be a difficult game for us first up.
They have proven to be very competitive in their games against higher-level opponents Halifax and Widnes.
The Blackpool game represents a huge hurdle for us. They will treat it like a Test match and will be confident of turning us over.
As for us, we need to build up a head of steam quickly. The season is being viewed as an ongoing project and every game represents a small but significant part of the overall picture.
At the moment we are focusing in on the first three weeks of the campaign and it is vital we get off to a strong start if we are to stake a claim for the title and automatic promotion.
To get there, we may well need to win almost every game we play.
I am confident we will start the season well and I am very thankful for all the support I have received from the supporters up to now. It has been really positive.
As much as anything else, it has meant that I have been able to concentrate on doing my job without any worries. Hopefully, that can continue well into the future.
Brothers in arms for Oldham’s promotion push
THOMAS COYLE is sure he made the right choice in signing for Oldham, writes MATTHEW CHAMBERS.
The 20-year-old scrum-half followed in brother James’s footsteps by swapping Super League side Wigan Warriors for the Roughyeds.
The pair — sons of another ex-Wigan half-back, Bernard — have already shown tasters of what they can do in tandem as the creative hub of coach Tony Benson’s new-look team for 2009.
And Thomas, who is now training to be an electrician, has no doubts over his step into the semi-professional ranks in Co-operative Championship One.
“I feel I have been playing alright so far,” said Thomas, two-and-a-half years the junior of James and pictured above left alongside his brother.
“I missed two games because of a knee injury, which set me back a bit, but returned against Hunslet and since then have got back into it.
“I am pleased to have come here, not least because it has meant I have been able to get on an electricians’ course, and hopefully I can play well here and in the future get back up to Super League again.
“It is a change of lifestyle but I am enjoying it.
“James told me all about how it was such a good club and that was the reason that I joined in the first place.”
Thomas, who showed in a loan spell at Halifax last year that he is also adept at hooker, is a feistier character than his more laid-back brother James, both of whom played together in Wigan’s academy set-up.
As has been shown already by tongue-lashings to both team mates and officials, he isn’t one happy with settling for second best — even when it comes to offering free advice to Oldham’s other Coyle.
“Playing alongside him isn’t something I am unused to and I just tell him what to do!” said Thomas.
“But when we are out on the field he is just another member of the team like everybody else.
“Our goal for this season is simply to win the league and I feel that it is all down to us and how we perform. The only people who can lose the title are ourselves.
“We have got a good squad together and could probably compete in the Co-operative Championship. But we just didn’t quite get there last time, so we have to make sure we do it this year.”
New boys have made big difference — Roberts
ROUGHYEDS skipper Robert Roberts believes the new men in coach Tony Benson’s squad have taken things up a notch from last year.
Roberts (29) is pleased with the contribution made by the newcomers but, despite enjoying a Northern Rail Cup pool campaign that has featured three victories — one of which came against competition favourites Widnes on their own patch — is also mindful of the tough battles that lie ahead.
“We are definitely progressing,” said the former Huddersfield and Leigh player, who is seeking promotion at the third time of asking with Oldham.
“Jamie (I’Anson) has been one of our best signings on what he has shown so far.
“He has done very well, as has Dave Allen on the back of that and the two Coyle brothers (James and Thomas) are really good to play around.
“Thomas is one of the old school, getting on to the forwards when they are not in the right places and his anger at us is what we need sometimes.
“He is a typical cheeky half-back and I think every team needs one. While James is composed, Thomas is fiery and it is a good combination.
“Overall, we have started very strongly and having made the knockout stage of the Northern Rail Cup, it is a bonus — but all we are concentrating on now is the league season.
“It is a good platform for us to go into the season on. But Blackpool will be no mugs this year and are going well under Crommy (Martin Crompton) so that first game won’t be easy for us.
“As TB (Tony Benson) has said to us, we just have to look after ourselves. Hopefully if we do that, the results will follow.”
Robinson bragging rights are at stake
CRAIG ROBINSON won’t hold back if and when he lines up against brother Adam this season.
The 23-year-old former Rochdale forward swapped Spotland for Boundary Park in the close season — at the same time that his younger sibling chose to move to promotion rivals Dewsbury Rams.
The two have come up against each other on the same field of play before, doing so on four out of six occasions that the Roughyeds took on the Hornets during 2008.
This time around, there could be even more determination on the part of the brothers to win family bragging rights. That is because both Dewsbury and Oldham fancy their chances of ending the Co-operative Championship One season on top of the pile.
Still, despite the passion that will no doubt be on show when the contenders meet, Craig doesn’t expect Mr and Mrs Robinson to endorse any action that spills beyond the laws of the game.
“It is a bit strange the way it has worked out, with me playing for his old club,” he said.
“If Adam runs at me, I will be trying to put the biggest hit on him I possibly can and I’m sure he will feel the same.
“I think mum and dad are just happy to see us playing. But if a fight was to break out on the field while we were playing against each other, though, I don’t think we would get involved with each other — mum and dad might be very disappointed!”
Club hit top gear for new link-up
OLDHAM’S community work is really motoring along this season, thanks to the club’s sponsorship link-up with Lythgoe Motors.
The company, which is based on Middleton Road, have become the Roughyeds’ first-ever official car partner, and branded vehicles can now be spotted across the town as community development manager Sean Mellor and club captain Robert Roberts go from place to place, working with Oldham youngsters.
The deal was rubber-stamped before the start of the Northern Rail Cup campaign, much to the delight of Oldham chief executive Chris Hamilton.
“The is a first for the Roughyeds and we are delighted to welcome Lythgoe Motors on board as major commercial partners,” said Mr Hamilton.
“The relationship has been an extremely positive one since talks first started, with a real willingness on the part of Lythgoe Motors to buy into what we are trying to achieve at the town’s professional rugby league club.”
John Barker, general manager of Lythgoe Motors, said: “We are delighted to become the club’s car partners and sponsors.
“We are striving to get involved with the local community and this is a great starting point — a first for us as well as the club.”
Gibbons targets return
WHILE the highlight of Oldham’s season so far is undoubtedly the away victory over Widnes Vikings, for one Roughyeds player the game was anything but a triumph, on a personal level at least.
Stevie Gibbons, the Ireland international hooker, had made a very impressive first-half debut up to that point at the Stobart Stadium — only for a shoulder problem to suddenly stop him in his tracks. The 25-year-old union convert hasn’t played since and is waiting for the results of a scan.
“It was an absolute disaster,” admitted Gibbons, a favourite of Roughyeds coach Tony Benson from their time working together both with the Ireland development squad and, last year, at London Skolars.
“The injury occurred in only the second or third set of tackles I was involved in and though I played on through it for around 15 minutes, when it got to half-time it had seized up so there was no way I could go back on.
“Particularly in a big game like that, it was a huge blow.”
The hope is that the former Carlow Crusaders man, who is to start a Masters degree in town planning at Leeds Metropolitan University in September, will be back on the scene soon.
Having arrived at Oldham in the footsteps of fellow Irish international Wayne Kerr, though currently out of action Gibbons is delighted to be involved with a club of Oldham’s profile.
“It is like chalk and cheese and is a massive step up,” he said, comparing the Roughyeds to Co-operative Championship One side London Skolars.
“The level of interest shown towards the team and the professionalism in the way the club is run and organised — I don’t want to put anyone at Skolars down, but the standards here are higher and much more is expected, which is where I want to be.
“Tony (Benson) has been very good to me throughout my career and hopefully it can carry on at Oldham.”
YOUR TEAM-BY-TEAM GUIDE
Roughyeds rivals in the spotlight
(last season — relegated)
BOSS Warren Jowitt has a big squad at his disposal as he bids to get the Rams back up to the professional game’s second tier at the first time of asking.
A 100-per-cent start to the season in the Northern Rail Cup — including a 50-0 thumping of Swinton and a 34-14 home win over local rivals Batley — indicates they have the potential to do just that. The night match between Oldham and Dewsbury on Easter Monday is already a mouth watering prospect.
New faces: Adam Robinson (Oldham), Ian Tonks (unattached), Rob Spicer, Gareth Greenwood (York), Adam Hayes (Sheffield), Mike Emmett (Wakefield), Chris Spurr (Rochdale), Josh Tonks (Castleford), Craig Bower (unattached), Keegan Hirst (Hunslet), Lee Lingard (Featherstone).
Prospects: Will be pushing hard for a top spot and automatic promotion with the Roughyeds.
(last season — 5th)
BARRY Eaton’s side came close to nailing a date with Oldham in the National League Two final eliminator last season, only to let a 24-6 advantage slip away at home to Rochdale at the previous stage. Nonetheless, it was a positive season for Keighley — who handed the Roughyeds a severe reality check in a 26-12 Cougar Park win in April — and expectations are that further strides will be made in 2009. The Cougars only narrowly missed out on qualification for the Northern Rail Cup quarter-finals.
New faces: Carl Hughes (Featherstone), Daley Williams (Salford), Craig Brown (Sheffield), Lee Mapals (Doncaster), Karl Gunney (Hunslet).
Prospects: May find it tough to live up to the high standards set last season.
York City Knights
(last season — 6th)
TO this observer, it remains difficult to believe that York had to wait 12 matches before picking up their first win under new player-coach Paul March last season. But a storming latter half of the campaign makes such a run massively unlikely this time.
Despite losing established and influential men like Dave Buckley, Ross Divorty and Ryan Esders, a massive squad by Championship One standards contains plenty of promising talent.
New faces: Wayne McHugh (Featherstone), Richard Knight (Keighley), Jordan Ross (Australia), Chris Clough (Huddersfield), Adam Jones (Castleford), Tom Stancliffe (Hull FC), Mike Mitchell (Hull FC), Kris Peacock (Hull FC).
Prospects: Top three at the very least, York could well be the side that pushes Oldham the closest at the top.
(last season — 7th)
PLAGUED by off-field problems which saw the old club go to the wall after a winding-up order for unpaid tax was issued, the re-formed ‘Hornets RL’ are glad simply to have started the season.
Coach Darren Shaw has stuck around despite the difficulties and plenty of players have done likewise and though the club — now being run as a supporters’ co-operative — had a tough start to the season they managed to at least pick up a 28-26 home win against Blackpool in the Northern Rail Cup.
New faces: Liam Bretherton (Orrell), Andy Smith (Halifax), Craig Johnson (Leigh), John Gillam (Blackpool), Casey Mayberry, Martin Gambles (Blackpool), Paul Raftery (Barrow), Kyle Neal (Leigh), Tommy Gallagher, Martin McLoughlin (Widnes), Liam Grundy (Leigh), Dayne Donoghue (Widnes).
Prospects: Have a lot of good players on board despite the turmoil and though it may take a while for their season to get going, Hornets are likely to be tough to beat once they hit their stride.
(last season — 8th)
COACH Dave Rotheram has overseen an exodus of talent over the close season, with the likes of Shaun Lunt heading off to Huddersfield Giants and Liam Campbell moving to Barow.
Last season’s player of the year Matty Tunstall, who has gone to Whitehaven, leaves a big hole in the forwards, though Rotheram at least has last season’s leading points scorer Carl Forber back after his move to Rochdale fell through. The start to the season hasn’t been good, with three straight defeats so far and the younger players in the squad will have to learn fast.
New faces: Steve Roper (Widnes), Andrew Beattie, Mike Whitehead, Jack Pedley (Barrow), Tommy Brindle (Wigan), Mark Hobson (Salford).
Prospects: Lack of experience means Town may struggle to stay away from the lower end of the table.
(last season — 9th)
AFTER a miserable year in 2007 in which they lost all 22 league games, former Oldham Bears captain and now-Blackpool coach Martin Crompton pulled his team round to the extent that they ended the season only three points adrift of the play-offs in National League Two.
Of the seven wins gained, one even came against promoted Barrow and the Panthers’ progress should continue this season given the quality recruits that have been added to the squad.
Ian Hodson started in Oldham’s play-off final defeat to Doncaster and there are plenty of other experienced names such as John Hill, Paul Alcock and Chris Campbell to add to promising talents like superbly-named full-back Johnny Leather.
New faces: Mark McCully (Workington), Ian Hodson, Gareth Langley (Oldham), Liam McGovern (Swinton), Keiron Tucker, Paul Alcock, Tom Wild, Chris Campbell, Craig Farrimond (all Rochdale), Tom Woodcock (Leigh), John Hill (Leigh).
Prospects: A play-off place higher than last year has to be the aim, though it won’t be easy seeing as teams around them have also strengthened.
(last season — 10th)
PAUL Kidd’s side disappointed hugely last term and a big improvement is expected this time around. Getting veteran half-back Graham Holroyd on the field and directing operations has to be a priority — injury prevented him from playing in the club’s Northern Rail Cup games up until now — but there are a number of other experienced and talented men within the squad.
Though the Lions have lost all three competitive matches up to now, they pushed Championship side Doncaster all the way for a 36-28 scoreline that indicates promise.
New Faces: Dave Hull, Alex McClurg (both St Helens), Graham Holroyd, Paul Southern, Danny Heaton (all Halifax), Mike Wainwright (Leigh), Tommy Grundy (Oldham), Matty Ashe, Carl Sneyd (both Rochdale).
Prospects: An improvement on 2008 is inevitable and, on paper at least, the Lions appear well capable of being in the play-off final shake-up.
London Skolars (last season — 11th)
CALLUM Irving takes over as head coach from new Roughyeds incumbent Tony Benson and expects his Skolars side to make a decent fist of things in 2009 following the mild disappointment of last year.
They have lost Mario du Toit and Rubert Jonker due to the new immigration regulations, but with a number of players proven at this level added to promising youngsters coming through a well-regarded set-up, hopes are high that the North London club will make progress this season.
New faces: Jaymes Chapman, Ollie Bloom, Ori Agbareh (both Harlequins), Paul Hyder (Hainault Bulldogs), Jaymes Chapman, Bobby Wallis (both unattached).
Prospects: Difficult to envisage the team from the capital improving too much on last season’s final position — though then again, that’s what many said about Gateshead before last season’s ttile-winning campaign.
(last season — 12th)
WHILE last season was a disappointment for coach Graeme Hallas’s side, the 2009 season promises much better things.
The Papua New Guniea international trio have shown glimpses already of what they can do and there is plenty of experience on board in the likes of Steve Dooler and Richard Chapman.
Results like the one the Hawks pulled out of the bag last season, when they beat Barrow 15-10, may not be such a rarity if the team can find a new level of confidence.
New men: Ayden Faal, Jason Hart (Doncaster), Michael Brown, James Martin (Huddersfield), Steve Dooler (Featherstone), Chris Redfearn (Keighley), Michael Mark, Charlie Wabo, Micko Slain (Papua New Guinea), Tom Crosby (Castleford).
Prospects: Should be good enough for a spot in the lower reaches of the play-offs.