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MATCH REPORT Oldham 52-6 Keighley Cougars
Monday 29th January 2018 @ 15:02 by Mark Phillip


Opportunity knocked for Oldham’s young hooker Matty Wilkinson – and he wasn’t for throwing up the chance to see his street cred soar in the Roughyeds’ dressing room.

His senior rivals for the key dummy-half job in the season ahead, club captain and former Super League player Gareth Owen and long-serving Kenny Hughes, were both injured.

So 21-year-old ‘Wilko’, junior member of the Roughyeds’ triumvirate of hookers, didn’t only start this third and final pre-season ‘friendly’ against Keighley Cougars — he finished it too after putting in a full 80-minute shift and deservedly carrying off man-of-the-match billing !

Few hookers in the modern game are expected to go through a match without a breather. Indeed, there have been numerous times during Scott Naylor’s five-year stint as head coach when Roughyeds have used three hookers in the same match on a rotation basis.

Wilkinson didn’t only do the job here on his own . . . he had a blinder.

He terrorised the Cougars’ marker defence at the ruck, had a hand in several of his side’s nine tries and jumped out of dummy half to lay touchdowns on a plate for Phil Joy and Danny Bridge, the latter only five minutes from the end when, by rights, he should have been gasping to draw breath.

His classy contribution was one of the highlights of the Roughyeds’ homecoming party in this their first game at the newly-named Vestacare Stadium in Limehurst Village, Oldham after two seasons playing out of town at Bower Fold, Stalybridge.

The new, top-of-the-range 3G pitch clearly suited the home side’s enthusiasm for throwing the ball around after the restrictions of playing on heavily saturated, soggy surfaces in their two previous friendlies at Rochdale and Barrow.

It was also pleasing to see the new dual-registration link with Salford Red Devils working like a charm.

With seven senior players out of this one for various reasons, there was still room for Oldham to trigger the new arrangement with their Betfred Super League partners even though Naylor again included his five trialists in a 20-man squad.

Salford new boys Gavin Bennion, from Rochdale, and Levy Nzoungou, from Toulouse Olympic, wore Oldham shirts for the first time and contributed hugely to an entertaining Roughyeds performance which augurs well for the inevitably tougher challenges that lie ahead.

The Cougars pack couldn’t live with the size, strength and power of the home forwards, who were especially well served by the two Salford men as well as the home side’s own middle-unit heavyweights in Joy and Luke Nelmes.

Coming off the bench, Nelmes tore into the Cougars forwards, who had already been ‘softened up’ by Bennion, Joy and Nzoungou.

It was just what Wilkinson needed to work his magic from the back of the ruck.

It was also a bonus for half-backs Paul Crook and Dave Hewitt, the former distributing and recycling beautifully on the right edge and the latter scoring two tries himself and sending in trialist centre Zak McComb for another.

Oldham will be challenged far more seriously than this, starting with their first League 1 game at Whitehaven on February 18, but for now it was just what Naylor ordered.

His boys led 22-0 at half-time with tries by Hewitt, McComb, Steven Nield and Nzoungou plus three conversions by Crook.

Their dominance continued after the break when they added further tries by Danny Rasool (2), Joy, Bridge and Hewitt and five more goals by Crook.

Brendon Rawlinson scored Keighley’s only try, goaled by Harry Aaronson, 12 minutes from the end.

OLDHAM: Nield; Eccleston, Holmes, McComb, West; Crook, Hewitt; Joy, Wilkinson, Bennion, Bridge, Langtree, Spencer; Replacements, Briscoe, Maders, Martin, Nelmes, Nzoungou, Rasool, Barlow.

KEIGHLEY: Hawkyard; Dixon, Leeming, Ryder, Aaronson; Hardcastle, Gaylor; Law, Lumb, Hallas, Senior, Parker, Rawlins; Replacements: Barker, Kenga, Walters, Ross, Reed, Barnes, Panter.

Ref: J Child; Att: 377.

By Roger Halstead