PAUL Crook will break a seven-year habit when he heads for the Oldham dressing room at the Crown Oil Arena on Sunday, January 7 (3pm kick-off) ahead of the Law Cup clash with derby rivals Rochdale Hornets.
As the Hornets’ all-time record points scorer, stand-off Crook (31) will be back on his old stomping ground for the first time since leaving at the end of the 2016 season after playing a key role in Rochdale’s promotion from League 1 to the Kingstone Press Championship.
He spent last season at Whitehaven, narrowly failing to steer the West Cumbrians to a similar promotion, and then signed for Oldham, the club Rochdale fans love to beat more than any other side in the game.
Crook, once the darling of the Hornets crowd after amassing 1,499 points in red, white and blue to smash a club record that had stood for 82 years, will turn left instead of right on Sunday when he passes through the club foyer and into the corridor that houses the home and away dressing rooms.
“It will feel strange to be in the visitors’ changing room, but I’m an Oldham player now and I’ve got a job to do for them,” he said.
“I’m looking forward to it. It will be good to go back to Rochdale. It was a good club for me during my seven years there.
“The fans were always friendly to me and my family and that’s something you never forget. It will be grand to see some old faces at a ground I know so well. There will certainly be no animosity, that’s for sure.
“It’s quite a while since I left so there won’t be many of my old team mates still there.”
Of the 25 players currently forming the Hornets squad, only Lewis Galbraith, Danny Yates, Joe Taira, Matty Hadden and Ryan Maneely were there with Crook in 2016 although Gary Middlehurst played at Rochdale alongside Oldham’s new midfield general for a few seasons before that.
Added Crook: “In the last week or two we’ve stepped up the intensity of pre-season training and it’s been very good. I’m one of ten new players but we’ve all got to know each other over the course of the last seven or eight weeks.
“We’ve been working hard in the gym and out on the field and Nobby (head coach Scott Naylor) has been giving us a lot of good stuff to do.
“At the end of a season it’s always nice to have a break, but after a couple of weeks or so you want to get back into training and then you start looking forward to the new season. We’re all looking forward to the Rochdale game on Sunday.”
Crook has kicked Oldham to death a few times over the years, most notably in 2013 at the end of Naylor’s first year in charge at what is now named the Vestacare Stadium.
First, he landed a towering, long-range drop goal in the dying seconds to give Hornets a 23-22 win at Whitebank to carry his side into the Grand Final.
Oldham subsequently joined them in the final at Leigh Sports Village where Crook’s kicking game was a key element of Rochdale’s promotion-winning 32-18 win. In both games he was named man of the match.
More than four years on, Naylor has signed Crook for Oldham because he believes the St Helens-born points machine is the man behind a strong set of forwards to steer Roughyeds back to the Championship, as he did for Rochdale in 2016 and so very nearly did for Whitehaven a year later.
Shortly after signing him, Naylor said Crook would have a key role as midfield general, goalkicker, field kicker and the man carrying most responsibility for controlling the link between pack and backs.
He added: “Paul is a first-rate kicker, but his vast experience of the game as a whole will be a key element of whatever we do in 2018.
“He’ll pull the strings in midfield and lead the other lads around the park. We lacked a little bit of know-how last year, but it should be different this time around.”