By Roger Halstead
Revved-up Roughyeds roared into the Promotion Final on Sunday, October 6 with a high-octane performance in Sunday’s play-off semi-final against Doncaster at the Vestacare Stadium.
The home side’s 22-12 win failed to reflect the extent of their domination, given that the Roughyeds rugged and structured defence had been breached only once in the entire game until the last minute when the Dons scored their second try.
Oldham deserved a bigger interval lead than the 8-6 with which they went into the break, but they certainly made their superiority count in the second half when they forced the Dons into making countless errors and built a 22-6 lead which would have been more representative of the game’s ups and downs.
Recording their tenth win in the last 11 games — how’s that for consistency ? — Roughyeds did everything right in a performance that wasn’t flashy but which was full of passion and heavily concentrated on near-perfection of the basics.
In direct contrast to how the Dons failed to cope with a wet,slippy ball in the second half of a semi-final cauldron, Roughyeds kept errors to an absolute minimum while using the intensity of their defence to cause their opponents to constantly spill possession.“It was play-off football and we did it extremely well,” said coach Scott Naylor.
“We’re not getting carried away or going over the top,but the way we’re playing right now I don’t think anyone will fancy coming to the Vestacare Stadium in the final.”
Oldham made a strong start and took early advantage of a penalty at the ruck for Paul Crook to nose them into an 11th-minute lead.
We knew then that this wasn’t your run-of-the-mill league game.
This wasn’t a case of running the ball and keeping up the pressure; in this game every point on offer had to be taken.
A few minute later a lively Dave Hewitt danced and jinked his way past three defenders to score the opening try and everything was going according to plan.
The Crook goal established an 8-0 lead inside 17 minutes.
There then followed the only blip on the first-half performance when, of the next four penalties, three went to Doncaster and it was on the back of that dodgy spell by the home side that the influential Matty Beharrell came more into his own.
The home defence remained absolutely rock solid, but Doncaster got the territorial foothold to make something happen in their favour and it did when Rangi Chase’s perfectly-weighted grubber behind Oldham’s defensive line provided a try for Beharrell, which he also converted.
There was only one other time in the entire first half that the visitors had seriously threatened, but Jodie Hedges was finally stopped just short before he was helped off injured.
Oldham clearly meant business on the resumption for the second half and Levy Nzoungou’s early knock-on inside the Dons 20-metre zone gave them the opportunity to push further ahead.
A wayward pass luckily found Danny Langtree, who was stopped just short.
Then the ball went left and cheeky chappie Hewitt delivered again with another inside jink and sidestep before finding Emmerson Whittel with an inside ball.
The forward crowned another strong performance by crashing in for Oldham’s second try, Crook adding the goal for a 14-6 lead.
By now, Doncaster were well and truly rattled. They started dropping the ball which, allied to three Oldham penalties in a row, allowed the home side to go from strength to strength.
A third try came on 55 minutes when Hewitt, who else ?, drilled a ball low and hard towards the posts on a wet, skiddy surface.
It produced a defensive fumble and Crook pounced to cross between the sticks and then add the goal. At 20-6 there was enough daylight for fans to breath more easily.
And for the first time in a high-intensity game they probably felt they could even relax a bit when the Dons were pinged for running offside near the half-way line.
It wouldn’t have happened in a “normal” match from such distance and already enjoying a 14-point lead , but this was no normal match and up stepped Crook to go for goal.
From five metres inside the Dons half, and directly in front of the posts, Crook hammed the ball straight and true to add even further to Doncaster’s troubles.
To their credit they kept battling away even though they must have known the game had slipped away from them.
Oldham knew they had it in the bag and, unlike performances in early season, they closed down the game with Hewitt constantly driving the ball into touch at the Doncaster end of he pitch.
This was Oldham excelling in play-off rugby.
It was a pity they conceded on one of the last plays of the game when Brandon Wijlkinson broke through to set up a converted try for Kyle Kesik but credit the visitors for a never-say-die attitude.
Brilliant teamwork was the key to Oldcham’s victory charge, with every man playing his part, but there were inevitably some outstanding individual awards.
Ritchie Hawkyard, yet again, was perpetual motion personified; Crook and Hewitt, at half-back, took on Beharrell and Chase and outplayed them; and where it really counted, up front, there was no one better than Phil Joy and Liam Bent. What a worker he is !
Whittel had a strong game too, as did his fellow Yorkshiremen in the centres, Cameron Leeming and Zack McComb.
Out wide on the left, Danny Bridge was a fully-deserving man of the match. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Roughyeds must have the best second-row pair in the division with ‘Langers’ on on side and Bridge on the other.
Scorers: Oldham — goals, Crook 5/5; tries, Hewitt, Whittel, Crook; Doncaster – goals, Beharrell 2/2; tries, Beharrell, Kesik.
OLDHAM: Hawkyard; Kay, McComb, Leeming, Johnson; Crook, Hewitt; Joy, Owen, Law, Bridge, Langtree, Bent. Subs: Spencer, Wilkinson, Whittel, Beckett.
DONCASTER: Howden; Doherty, Bower, Tali, Halliday; Chase, Beharrell; Nzoungou, Kesik, Spiers, Mariano, Washbrook, Wilkinson. Subs: Boas, Boyle, Brown, Hedges.
Ref: Liam Moore; Att: 529; HT, 8-6; Pens: 10-10.