Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Sunday's Coming: Batley Bulldogs

Batley Coach John Kear sat by us at last week's game against the All Golds scribbling furiously in his notebook: a measure of the thorough approach that has made The Gallant Youths perennial Grand Finalists  - and the perfect template for how a 'small' club can take on the economic might of the Championship's over-ambitious Super League dillusionists and win, on their own terms.

In their own Challenge Cup game, Batley overcame a slow start (leading only 14-4 a the break) to eventually beat Kells by 54 to 4. They drew a plum tie against Super League leaders Castleford in the next round - the club where coach John Kear had a great playing career. That tie's been made more interesting after the Bulldogs confirmed the signing of Castleford second-rower Charlie Martin last Friday. 
John Kear - not as grumpy as his
book cover suggests.

The week before in the Championship, the Bulldogs threw away a 6-nil half time lead to go down 12-20 against Doncaster at Mount Pleasant. But possibly their most eyecatching result of the season thus far was their gritty 10-8 victory over Halifax at the Shay.

At first glance John Kear looks to have assembled a moneyball-style squad of low-profile grafters, but there are plenty of threats - most notably from ex-Sheffield flyer Vinny Finigan who plays outside ex-Hornets favourite Lee 'Pogo' Paterson. In the other centre channel is Alex Bretherton, who's played on both sides of the Heavy Woollen divide.

Up front, another ex-Hornet Byron Smith will pile it in all afternoon - but the primary threat could come from ex-Wests Tigers, North Sydney Bears and Halifax half Ben Black. We say 'could' because his absence from recent Bulldogs line-ups suggest that he's still struggling to shake off the effects of a pre-season knee operation that was expected to sideline him for 'three to four weeks'. Let's hope another week will sort him out...

Speaking recently, John Kear said of his side: “I’m not expecting us to be playing our best rugby until two-thirds or three-quarters of the way through the season…” Needless to say, we hope you're right John.

Hopefully, amongst Kear's notebook scribbles is a recognition that ruthless flogging of the All Golds hints at Hornets emergence as a genuine Championship side. The consensus amongst those we've spoken to is that, if last week's Hornets side took on the Hornets that beat the All golds last season, it'd win by 20 points or more. 

And, with several of last week's side having outstanding games, Ian Talbot should have a few selection headaches this weekend.

Having evolved beyond Championship 1 standard by some way - let's hope Sunday sees us take that next evolutionary step and turn good performances in to results. We #believe it's not far away. See you Sunday.

RFL Match Preview
Rochdale Hornets v Batley Bulldogs (3.00)

Rochdale Hornets coach Ian Talbot could stick with a similar team from the one that recorded a 76-4 victory over Gloucestershire All Golds last week.

Mike Ratu, Chris Baines and Dave Llewllyn all impressed on their first appearances of the year.

Talbot said: “A few players put their hands up. They earned their chance and they took it with both hands.”

“It was a good performance. We have improved considerably from last season, but not enough to get that first in the Kingstone Press Championship – yet.

“You know you’re going to be up against it when you play a team coached by John Kear, but we’ll give it our best shot.”

Batley Bulldogs could be without Mark Applegarth, who is struggling with a knee injury, but Ben Blackmore is available.

Batley coach Kear said: “I have watched three of Rochdale’s games and they are taking teams very close. They are just falling away in the last 20 minutes, but at some stage they are going to upset someone. We have just got to make sure it’s not us.”

He added: “They’re not that far away from a Championship win and last week will have done their confidence the world of good.

“Our own season has been consistently inconsistent. We’re having some tremendous periods and some indifferent periods, and we’ve got to try to put 80 minutes together.”