Rugby League: Oldham edging away from the abyss

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The Independent Online
Oldham 22 Doncaster 17

THE SMALLEST crowd in Oldham's 104-year history saw them turn some sort of corner last night. The question is what lies in wait around it. The Roughyeds ended a six-match losing sequence to put some breathing space between themselves and the foot of the Northern Ford Premiership.

The sad commentary on their situation was that only 676 people were there to see what, in its own way, turned out to be a more stirring contest than many in Super League this season - the Super League that Oldham themselves were in two years ago. "We made hard work of it, but a win's a win and we certainly needed it," said Chris Hamilton, the local accountant who revived the club after its liquidation in 1997.

"It's unfortunate that so many people have given up on us and lost sight of where the club is in its rehabilitation."

Where it is just about as low as professional rugby league gets; these two, the bottom clubs in the table, before kick-off, both have deep-seated problems. Not only are Oldham playing in Rochdale but their performances, including a record 84-0 defeat at Widnes last week, have alienated all but their most ardent supporters.

The only team worse off is Doncaster, on their third coach of the season and whose status as associate members of the League denies them any funding and makes their existence a precarious proposition.

There was plenty of evidence in the first half to explain how they both reached their present plight. Even in perfect conditions, there was a plethora of unforced handling errors. But there were also flashes of the sort of skill that belied the two club's positions. Oldham's Australian scrum-half, Daniel Brown, was largely responsible for those, setting up a try for Leo Casey and gliding through for one of his own, as well as kicking three goals, the last of them after the veteran Paul Round had found a way around a static Doncaster defence.

In between the first two tries, however, the centre John Okul barged off two tackles and held off another to hit back for Doncaster and, before half-time, the attacking flair of Lee Maher changed the game. The former Leeds and Featherstone full-back scored one try from a side-stepping 60- yard run and then set up Graham Southernwood for another with an equally elusive break.

After John Hough's try following the break, Doncaster could only chip away at Oldham's lead with a drop goal and a penalty. Whether victory marks an Oldham revival is open to doubt. They were collecting signatures for a petition urging a return to playing in the town outside Spotland; had they lost this, supporters more spoiled by success might have been campaigning to keep them away.

As the hooter sounded one man shook Hamilton warmly by the hand and assured him that he was doing a good job. The chairman looked nonplussed. "He stank of ale," he said.

Oldham: Leuila; Mead, Jackman, Brennan, McNicholas; Webster, Brown; Casey, Hough, Clegg, Round, Maders, Sinfield. Substitutes used: Crook, Perrett, Nadiole, Peralta.

Doncaster: Maher; Campbell, Okul, Mosley, Moore; Allen, Mycoe; Morgan, Southernwood, Lister, Thackray, Adams, Miller. Substitutes used: Andrews, Derose, Bruce.

Referee: J King (St Helens).