THERE are not many at Barrow Raiders who will have little idea of what to expect from Oldham in tomorrow’s pre-season encounter, although arguably few know better than Jono Smith.

The second row has enjoyed plenty of battles with the Roughyeds down the years from his spells with North Wales Crusaders and Rochdale Hornets – including five times alone in the 2017 season.

Even Smith’s debut for the Raiders came against Oldham in a friendly this time last year, although the match itself was perhaps most memorable for the appalling weather conditions it was played in than anything else.

With the match between the sides seemingly becoming a permanent fixture on the pre-season calendar, it is no surprise Smith and his Barrow team-mate’s first hit-out of 2019 comes against Scott Naylor’s men.

But familiarity does certainly not breed contempt in this case and Smith is in no doubt a clash with Oldham is the perfect way to prepare for the Betfred Championship opener at Batley Bulldogs.

“I think we played them five times the other year at Rochdale,” said Smith. “It’s always a good tussle with Oldham and you know what you’re going to get.

“They’re big and physical, so it will stand us in good stead for Batley.

“Hopefully it’s not the same weather as last year – I don’t think the lads will be looking forward to it if it is like that. But obviously, once we come to pre-season you’re looking for that first game to come around.

“It’s the end of pre-season, really, because we’ve got three games back to back which take us right into the season.”

Having been undergoing a typically rigorous training programme since beginning preparations for the 2019 season back in November, there is an eagerness around the Raiders squad to finally get onto the field for a match.

Smith has an extra reason to want to get back out there though, with an injury sustained in the first week of pre-season meaning he has had to spend much of the time since then doing rehabilitation work.

“I tore my calf second session back, which wasn’t ideal,” said Smith, who was only given the all-clear to do contact work at training last Saturday morning.

“I’ve missed being around the boys and it’s pretty lonely when you’re injured, but it feels good and I feel fit seeing as how much I’ve missed.”

“It’s never good to get injured, but at the start of pre-season when you need to be setting benchmarks it’s pretty frustrating and you’re playing catch-up all the time.

“I’ve tried to look after myself off the pitch, staying off the ale and things like that.”

Some eye-catching signings mean there is a renewed buzz around Craven Park ahead of the new Championship season, with the Raiders aiming to push on after avoiding an immediate return to League One.

Smith cited the win over Leigh Centurions and draw with Toronto Wolfpack in the opening weeks of the 2018 campaign as key to that and is quietly confident Barrow will be looking up the table this year.

“We got the points on the board early doors and that stood us in good stead.,” said Smith.

“Hopefully this year we can kick on now and we won’t be looking down below us. Hopefully we’ll be looking up.”