THEY have labelled it ‘Groundhog Day’ – and Oldham Rugby believe what they did once in knocking Super League side Hull KR out of the Challenge Cup they can do again two years later.
On Sunday, April 22 Scott Naylor’s part-time League One outfit tackle top flight Rovers at Bower Fold, Stalybridge (3pm kick-off) bidding for a place in the last 16 of the famous knockout competition.
The teams are separated by 22 places on the game’s ladder and both, especially Oldham, are little recognisable from when they lined up at Craven Park in April 2016 when Naylor’s rank outsiders won 36-22 to pull off one of the biggest shocks in Challenge Cup history.
Only Phil Joy, club skipper Gareth Owen, Jack Spencer, Danny Langtree and Kenny Hughes are still at Oldham.
And they’ll be going head to head with a much-changed Rovers team, coached by Australia Test boss Tim Sheens, who has ex-Great Britain legend Jamie Peacock as his head of rugby.
Sheens, who has guided Rovers to three wins out of 11 Betfred Super League games this year, can select from a full-time squad of 33.
It includes Oldhamers James Greenwood, Lee Jewitt and Josh Johnson. Forwards Jordan Walne and Johnson have previously played for Roughyeds on dual-registration from Salford and Huddersfield respectively.
In stark contrast, Naylor’s squad comprises of 22 part-timers, who will be fitting in evening and Saturday morning training around their day jobs, plus three full-time youngsters who are on loan from Super League clubs.
The good news from an Oldham angle is that Wakefield Trinity are happy for full-back Luke Hooley and winger Lee Kershaw to get themselves cup-tied with Roughyeds, while Castleford Tigers have no objection to centre Kieran Gill doing likewise.
And head coach Naylor, who master-minded that magnificent Challenge Cup triumph in East Hull in 2016, will be hard-pressed to overlook the claims of 19-year-old Hooley, 18-year-old Kershaw and 22-year-old Gill, who impressed on debut in last Sunday’s 32-18 home win against Keighley Cougars.
If selected it will be a massive test for Kershaw, a Trinity U19s winger whose two-try introduction to League 1 against Keighley was his first taste of senior rugby.
Gill had two spells on loan with Roughyeds in 2016 and 2017 and the Keighley game last Sunday was his first back after major surgery and 10 months out.
“I’m dedicating it to the Oldham fans because they’ve always been great with me,” he said. “I regard Oldham as my second home now.”
Naylor won’t reveal his 19-man squad until after training on Saturday, but he left out several senior players last week, like Kyran Johnson, Matt Reid, Jack Holmes, Phil Joy, Adam Jones and Matty Wilkinson.
Naylor said: “When we went there a couple of years ago, it was a perfect day.
“We played a perfect game and KR didn’t and sometimes in rugby league when you’re behind and not getting any momentum things go against you and it becomes impossible.
“We surprised a lot of people including myself.
“I’ve got to be honest, I was hoping we’d play fantastic and that KR would have a massive off day, then hope things went our way which they did.
“It would have to be like that again on Sunday.”
Roughyeds will be faced by a Rovers side that will miss injured skipper Shaun Lunt at hooker.
Sheens might also be without regular centres Andrew Heffernan and Thomas Minns, who were injured and didn’t play at Warrington last time out.
It meant a debut for New Zealand born Junior Vaivai, who has played or Souths and Penrith in the NRL and who was in the USA’s World Cup squad last year.
He is expected to keep his place at Bower Fold, playing at left centre inside Aussie winger Justin Carney.
The big decision for Sheens though is whether to use his playmaker-in-chief Danny McGuire at stand-off or keep him back for what will be perceived as more difficult challenges ahead.
Either way the Aussie boss will be keen to make sure that when it comes to playing Oldham in the Challenge Cup lightning doesn’t strike twice.