Oldham Rugby League: Mike Ford and Sean Long target Super League return

Boundary Park in Oldham, view of a stand
Oldham's move to Boundary Park will help them in terms of proving they have the facilities to impress

Oldham Rugby League Football Club are targeting a Super League return, after decades of struggles on and off the pitch.

Under the stewardship of new owners led by former player and coach Mike Ford, the board hopes to revive one of the traditional giants of the game - and they have already made strides toward that goal.

Known as the 'Roughyeds', they have returned to the town after years spent groundhopping on the outskirts.

Their departure in 2009 meant they often had to play home games at grounds away from Oldham, a nomadic existence that led to increasing financial problems and dwindling crowds.

Their return to Boundary Park - shared with football neighbours Oldham Athletic - plus some eye-catching signings, have brought the crowds back.

Jordan Turner joined his hometown club after more than a decade playing at the elite Super League level, Elijah Taylor also brings international, NRL and domestic experience while half-backs Danny Craven and Jamie Ellis are also battle-hardened at the highest level.

Average home attendances have doubled to 1,300 and the club believes they will top the 2,000 mark before the end of the season.

Led by former St Helens star Sean Long, promotion from League One is the clear first target.

"We've put a good team together" Long told BBC North West Tonight. "We pride ourselves on our DNA - working class and working hard for each other. We're certainly targeting promotion.

"I just feel like there's a massive buzz around the town. The fans are getting on board and we're just trying to put Oldham back on the map.

"I just want to be part of it. I signed a three-year deal because I wouldn't want to miss out."

Being at Boundary Park also helps tick more boxes for Oldham in terms of meeting IMG's new grading criteria with regards to facilities and infrastructure - all part of the climb into the modern Super League.

Long, 47, was released as boss of Featherstone midway through a strong campaign - a departure that coincided with Rovers missing out on promotion last term.

'It's about building the whole club'

Sean Long during an interview
Oldham boss Sean Long has already put his faith in signing a three-year deal as head coach

Oldham have a long and proud history, and the area has long been a hotspot for rugby league. The club were founder members of the rugby league in 1895 and the Super League in 1996.

They famously reached four Challenge Cup finals in a row in the 1920s, winning two of them, as well as lifting the League Championship trophy in 1955.

In recent decades, the club's loyal fans have been starved of major success.

Oldham-born players like Kevin Sinfield, Paul Sculthorpe and Iestyn Harris had to go elsewhere as Oldham fell down the pecking order.

Ford, who was also a player and coach at his hometown club, is determined to change that.

"We've got a purpose and that purpose is to connect with our fans who haven't been for 20 years and try to get new fans to come here," the former Wigan and Great Britain half-back said.

He wants to make Oldham "a rugby league town again, to reawaken it".

He added: "We want to make it a club where there's a pathway so that local kids can play for Oldham and can see that this is a club where they want to stay. It's about building the whole club."

Investment, to the tune of hundreds of thousands of pounds, has been pumped in to the Roughyeds since last year's takeover, clearing debt and putting the club on an a stable footing.

The aim, through growth in sponsorship, commercial ventures and attendances, is for the club to be able to stand on its own two feet. The plan is to build a club fit for the Super League.

"The plans for the club are very ambitious. I wouldn't be here if we didn't have an opportunity to be that giant again," Ford said.

"We are aiming for Super League and to compete at the very highest level. We don't have to get to Super League in so many years though.

"It's not about that. It's about growing the club from the bottom up.

"We need everyone in the community to help us because it's not my team... it's our team, it's our club, it's our town. Together we'll do it."

A close working relationship with Oldham Athletic, revived under the ownership of the Rothwell family, has also been key.

The rugby league club's motto 'stronger together ' appears to be working so far, with their first game of the League One season at Workington Town on Sunday, 17 March.

Oldham fans will hope it provides further evidence that the Roughyeds really are on the rise.