Hornets 14 - Batley 10
It's been coming.
Every week the Hornets faithful have seen glimpses of the major improvements that their team has made in this challenging season. 'All we need' to do', they said, '… is to put all the improvements into one 80 minutes'. Wait no longer.
In this tough, tight wrestle amidst a Biblical hailstorm, Hornets repaid the faith of their fans with a win that not only rolled over one of the Championship's most durable outfits, but which saw resolute defence and boundless enthusiasm nil last year's Championship grand finalists in the seond forty minutes.
In the run-up to the game, Batley coach John Kear displayed a Nostradamus-like ability to predict his team's downfall: “I have watched three of Rochdale’s games and they are taking teams very close… but at some stage they are going to upset someone. We have just got to make sure it’s not us.”
As it turned out, it was - and Hornets didn't hang around with making Kear's prediction come true. After just two minutes Ryan Millard scythed through the heart of the Batley defence, but his slipped pass was fumbled by Sean Casey with the line begging. No matter…
As Batley's big pack ploughed a furrow up the centre of the park, Hornets continued to play the more imaginative football and, after 10 minutes, conjured up a well-crafted try: first Chris Baines going very close off a Ryan Millard short pass, the next tackle Wayne English slipping the ball to Mike Ratu who bulldozed his way through his opposite number to score. 4-nil.
Batley's response was bizzarre, as they hoisted the kick-off into Row Z of the Pearl Street stand, but the resulting Hornets pressure came to nought as Batley guided a last tackle kick dead in goal, then were helped upfield by a penalty for an unspecified ruck offence.
But Hornets continued to play the only real football on offer. A 17th minute repeat set off a Ryan Millard kick, then Wayne English on a skating 40 metre kick-return setting Sam Te'o loose only for the momentum to break down when Batley were penalised for lying on at the tackle.
Reward for Hornets' patient persistence came on the 20th minute when Paul Crook ran an unstoppable angle off a short ball at close range to score. 8-Nil, and Batley barely in the game.
The 24th minute saw the descent of a swirling hailstorn and the deterioration in conditions seemed to suit Batley's rudimentary approach. On the half hour, with their attack going nowhere, Batley shipped the ball through a series of panicky passes on the 20 metre line where Blackmore found enough space to surprise himself by scoring. 8-4.
The 35th minute served up a harsh reminder of how Championship sides can leap on any error and make it count. A sloppy carry gave Batley soft possession on the Hornets 20 metre line. The error was brutally punished in the next play, as Greenwood scored in the corner. Paterson's conversion slutched in off a post and - against the run of play - the Bulldogs went in at the break 10-8 up.
Batley started the half with another freak kick-off as the wind saw them start with the ball 12 metres inside their own half. From the resulting possession, Batley launched a high kick to the corner where a clash of bodies saw Blackmore touch down. But with Sam Te'o deemed tackled in flight, Hornets survived and took the game back to Batley.
On 48 minutes Paul Crook unleashed a monster of a 40/20, but with players queuing up on the left, the wet ball slipped from Ryan Millard's hands and it was Batley with the let-off.
The second half descended into a battle of attrition. Hornets endeavouring to play round a well-drilled Bulldogs defence; Batley resorting to the blunt-instrument approach, sending waves of forwards crashing into a robust, resolute Hornets resistance.
Fittingly, it was the second half's only real passage of lucid football that produced the try that broke Batley hearts. On 70 minutes Hornets set-up camp on the Batley 20. Quick hands to the left found just enough space for Sam Te'o to squeeze in and score. Crooky slammed home the two from the touchline and Hornets had 10 minutes to hang onto their 14-10 lead.
With time ebbing away, Batley persisted with Plan-A and came up with, well, nowt.
The final hooter brought the main stand to its feet as Hornets grabbed that all-important inaugural Championship win. Indeed, this was a victory for brains over brawn. Whereas Batley were happy to just roll-in the big lads and hope Hornets would crack under the strain, Hornets sought to play smart, controlled rugby whenever they had the opportunity.