GARETH WALKER of League Express looks at the contrasting fortunes of Leigh Centurions and Oldham
LAST weekend saw one club’s hope evaporate into disappointment, and another team end years of failure with long-awaited glory.
For Leigh Centurions and Oldham, the emotions could hardly have been more contrasting.
The Centurions were most people’s tip, including this writer’s, to push past Super League opposition in the first ever Super Eights series.
Paul Rowley’s side could hardly have been more impressive not just in this year’s league campaign, but in 2014 as well, and having beaten Salford and Wakefield in the Challenge Cup looked to have all the necessary tools to earn promotion.
Forty minutes into their opening game with Challenge Cup finalists Hull KR – with a 24-6 lead that could easily have been more – those predictions appeared well placed.
But the Centurions faltered after the restart, sliding to a defeat that they never really recovered from.
They will feel they should have beaten Wakefield as well, leading by 10 points at one stage and then being level when the Wildcats had Michael Sio sin binned.
But again they fell to a narrow loss, though not until last week’s 32-16 defeat to Bradford were their Million Pound Game hopes ended.
This certainly shouldn’t be the end for Rowley and his talented squad, and they look set to recruit heavily for another push next season.
They should also have learnt valuable lessons this time around, not least in the game management stakes in tight tussles against top flight opposition.
The following day another club’s years of disappointment were finally ended when Oldham won the League One promotion game against Keighley Cougars 31-20 in front of a Whitebank record crowd of 1,405.
The Roughyeds had been losers in six of the last eight finals at this level, on top of losing the 2001 NFP Grand Final, when promotion to Super League, no less, was at stake.
That adds up to a lot of heartache for the club’s loyal supporters and their long-serving, and suffering, chairman Chris Hamilton.
But at around 4.45pm last Sunday afternoon most of that will have been forgotten, as Scott Naylor’s gritty young team saw off the challenge of Keighley to realise that long-held dream.
Naylor had already deservedly been named Coach of the Year for the competition, and while rival clubs spent money on more high profile recruits, he admirably kept faith with the bulk of last year’s squad and moulded them into title winners.
Making the step up from the third tier to the second and competing in the Championship notoriously tough – particularly when at least three full-time teams will be in there next season, and probably four.
But the Roughyeds have earned that right, and their fans will long remember the achievements of Naylor and his players in 2015.