OLDHAM RUGBY League Club go into their winner-takes-all promotion battle against Keighley Cougars at Whitebank on Sunday (September 20, 3pm kick off), having already lifted the League Leaders’ Trophy by finishing with 19 wins from 22 games in Kingstone Press League One.
Their 76-12 win at Oxford in the last match of the regular season stretched their winning sequence to 13 in a row – their best in league games for 57 years.
The 1989-90 side enjoyed 16 consecutive wins, but four of them were cup-ties, leaving them with 12 consecutive league victories, and before that you have to go back to season 1957/58 when 16 league wins on the spin were recorded by one of the finest sides ever to grace Watersheddings.
The League Leaders’ Trophy was presented to club captain Lewis Palfrey at Oxford by Dr Paul Morgan, RFL president, deputy chairman of Huddersfield Giants and a man who, though not born in Oldham, arrived as a small boy and was brought up in the town.
His mother lives in Moorside and his late father, Lyn Morgan, played for Oldham RLFC in the 1960s as well as Rochdale Hornets and Oldham Rugby Union Club. He later became president of Broughton Park RU Club and he retained a passionate interest in the local rugby scene – of both codes – until the day he died.
The trophy his son presented to Palfrey was Oldham’s first piece of significant silverware since the ‘new’ club was formed in 1997 so it was a momentous occasion for chairman Chris Hamilton, coach Scott Naylor, backroom staff, players and fans.
Said Chris, chairman and sole owner: “It’s been a long time coming, but I am immensely proud to be chairman of this club and I have enough faith in our coaches and players to believe we can go on and finish the job by winning promotion at Whitebank against the Cougars.
“To win 19 games out of 22 – 13 of them in a row – says a lot about our coaching staff and players and their desire, commitment and skill.”
While celebrations among players and fans were at their height outside the Oxford pavilion, captain Palfrey issued a word of warning and a message of blunt reality.
“To finish top of the league is a massive achievement,” he said. “But in the midst of all this happiness there’s a weird feeling because the real job isn’t yet complete.
“If we don’t beat Keighley in the one-off play-off game we’ll feel we’ve failed in the job we set out to complete when we reported for pre-season training last November. The season’s goal from day one has been promotion and that remains our principle objective.”
The big game at Whitebank on Sunday is not all-ticket, but fans are urged to get there early to ease congestion at the turnstiles.
Club officials and the ground safety officer expect the attendance to easily surpass the Whitebank record of 1,275 for the visit of York City Knights in a play-off game near the end of the club’s first season at Limeside in 2010.
Oldham have fallen at the last hurdle in several play-off finals over recent years, but this is the first time they’ve had the opportunity of going up by winning a game on home soil, where they have had a remarkable record of consistency since coach Scott Naylor arrived to take charge three seasons ago.
On Sunday all roads from the rugby communities of Saddleworth and beyond will lead to Whitebank.