Benson Rings the Changes
Predictably, Oldham boss Tony Benson has made sweeping changes to the Roughyeds line-up for tonight's game at Whitehaven -- the second of three pre-season outings in eight days.
Eight players who were on duty in Sunday's 54-16 defeat at Batley -- Paul O'Connor, Ben Heaton, Valu Bentley, Dave Ellison, Kashley Watkins, Jason Boults, Gary Sykes and John Gillam --- will not be making the long trek to the Cumbrian coast for a testimonial game to recognise Howard Hill's decade of service to 'Haven.
The fixture was originally scheduled for Sunday, January 10 but postponed during the big freeze.
Roughyeds wouldn't have chosen to play a friendly in Whitehaven with an 8.00pm kick-off on a Wednesday night in January, but the club has honoured its promise to turn out for Hill, who began his professional career at Watersheddings and played 50 senior games for Oldham Bears in the mid 1990s.
Injuries, work commitments and Benson's desire to make maximum use of his entire squad during this demanding eight days have resulted in the many changes, highlighted by the experimental half-back pairing of Paul Reilly and Danny Whitmore.
The hugely-experienced Reilly, who will double up this season as Benson's right-hand man and assistant coach, will provide the proverbial 'old head' at stand-off half, while local lad Whitmore -- ten years his junior --- will be given a run alongside him at scrum-half.
The former Salford City Reds youngster didn't play at Batley because he had to clear a one-match ban from last season.
"Danny has played a lot of his rugby at hooker," said Benson, "but he is no stranger to half-back and this gives me an opportunity to have a look at him there."
Twenty players were given a run last Sunday, but for tonight's game only 18 have been named so far.
The six players called up for their first taste of action this year are Mike Priest, Craig Littler, Craig Robinson, Scott Mansfield, Reilly and Whitmore.
Priest (wing) and Littler (centre) pair up on the right flank while Robinson and Mansfield start off in the back-row of the pack.
Interestingly, the 18-man squad includes six Oldham-born players in Mick Fogerty, Mark Brocklehurst, Whitmore, Mansfield, Michael Ward and Chris Clarke.
Centre Fogerty began his Roughyeds career in a blaze of glory with two second-half tries at Batley, coming off the bench in the second half, and he is rewarded with a starting spot this time.
The former Keighley Cougars and Hornets RL centre will form a new left-flank partnership with his fellow newcomer and fellow Oldhamer, Brocklehurst.
Team: Brand; Priest, Littler, Fogerty, Brocklehurst; Reilly, Whitmore; Graves, M Roden, Kerr, Murtza, Robinson, Mansfield. Subs: Kinney, Ashe, Ward, Clarke, Onyango.
Benson recognises that some players, Chris Brand, Fogerty, Brocklehurst, Jack Graves, Martin Rhoden, Wayne Kerr, Saqib Murtza, Matty Ashe, Ward, Clarke, Jacob Kinney and Lucas Onyango among them, may have to play in each of the three games in a hectic week.
"That will be something I will have to bear in mind when allocating game time in this one," he said.