A season in the National League could prove the making of many of Hartlepool United’s players, according to boss Craig Harrison.
And he believes it could be a particularly crucial year for last night’s two-goal hero Rhys Oates.
The forward netted a first-half brace in the 6-0 demolition of Billingham Town and was a constant thorn in the Northern League Division Two outfit’s side.
Harrison believes that after an in and out season for Pools last year, this campaign could be the perfect stage for Oates to make a place in the Hartlepool starting XI his own.
“He did great. He did really well for us,” said the manager on Oates performance.
“Last season he played a lot off the left for this club and he might do that for me this year, too.
“It is good that he got off to a good start because this is a massive year for him, as it is for many of the players we have here, new and old.
“I feel it is really important my players to play more than one position and Rhys fits into that category.”
As far as run outs go, this was a relative walk in the park for Pools.
Pools showed early promise with Oates starting the new season like he left off last, bursting down the right to find Michael Woods, but the midfielder screwed wide from 10 yards with the goal at his mercy.
But the scores of travelling Pools fans, who lined all four sides of the ground, didn’t have to wait too long for the opener as trialist Junior Mondal, formerly of Middlesbrough, intercepted a stray pass in the middle, then played in Hawkes, who made no mistake, rolling the ball across the keeper and into the home net.
It was 2-0 within minutes - this time Woods rolled into Oates in the area, the lively frontman netting with a strike on the turn.
The Town goal led a charmed life thereafter with Scott Harrison denied and then Carl Magnay, playing centre-half, having a smart strike palmed clear.
But the home side’s luck was only to last so long as Josh Hawkes bagged his second on the half hour.
The youngster then turned provider as he floated a perfectly weighted pass for Oates, who looped a header over the top of the home goalie for 4-0.
After a rampant opening 45, Harrison made 10 changes at the break, taking off every outfield player - with debutant Scott Loach the only player who remained from the starting XI.
Bright spark from the opening 45 Oates was replaced by new boy Jake Cassidy, and the former Guiseley man almost got himself on the scoresheet, seeing a flashing drive sail just inches over the bar.
The fifth came from a set-piece. A curling corner from the right was nodded on by Amond from eight yards with just 20 minutes left on the clock.
And he rounded things off late on with his second and Pools sixth as he again rose highest in a crowded area to finish.
“The important thing was that the lads got 45 minutes under their belts and we did not get any injuries,” continued Harrison.
“For me it doesn’t matter what the results are we just have to make sure we get fit.
“Don’t get me wrong we want to play well and in an ideal world we want to win. I am a winner, whether we are playing football or I am playing Monopoly with my little girl I want to win desperately.
“Overall I thought we played well in both halves of football. I think at times we showed that we are a little bit rusty - players have worked hard on their fitness but done very little ball work. I think that showed.
“But we have done nine days of strength and conditioning and one day with the ball.
“It is not good having a game plan but not being fit enough to see it through.
“I was really pleased.”
Hartlepool Utd: Scott Loach, Kenton Richardson (Curtis Obeng 46), Josh Baynes (Blair Adams 46), Carl Magnay (Liam Donnelly 46), Scott Harrison (Josh Nearney 46), Luke George (Martin Smith 46), Josh Hawkes (Ryan Donaldson 46), Lewis Hawkins (Nicky Deverdics 46), Rhys Oates (Jake Cassidy 46), Michael Woods (Padraig Amond 46), Junior Mondal (Jack Munns 46).