With his side now assured of taking their place in the Co-operative Championship play-offs following the recent trouncing of the Swinton Lions, we caught up with head coach John Kear on Tuesday afternoon to collect his thoughts and look ahead to Sunday's key Heavy Woollen derby clash with the Dewsbury Rams at the Tetley's Stadium.
With that comprehensive 62-6 victory over the Swinton Lions now behind them, JK was pleased to acknowledge the manner in which his team achieved their objectives last Thursday night. "It was a great all-round performance against Swinton. I feel like the team has really grown as a group - we've spent a lot of time understanding the positives and negatives within the team, and we now feel very comfortable as we continue our development. It is pleasing that we have now achieved our first objective by assuring ourselves of a top six spot, and we now need to turn our attention to finishing as high as possible to secure home field advantage in the play-offs and, if possible, to finish in the top two."
JK went on to heap praise on his side's execution of the game plan on Thursday as well as highlighting some outstanding individual performances: "Ben Black and Gareth Moore were both outstanding on Thursday and we are now settled on our best half-back pairing. The two guys complement each other so well and both possess an immense kicking game and real creativity with ball in hand. Those two were excellent, but their performance was really aided by playing behind a dominant pack and some quick play-the-ball. Credit goes to all the players on Thursday, as they all played the roles assigned to them superbly."
One of the sides standing in the way of the Bulldogs continuing on their objective path is old rivals Dewsbury Rams, and Kear is fully aware of the threat they, and our other remaining opponents pose as we head towards the end of the regular season. "We have to accept that Dewsbury are stood in front of us on Sunday and that it is a local derby and anything can happen. We will not be underestimating the Rams, or York when we face them the following week, and we will be adopting that boring old approach of taking one game at a time as that is what we need to do to progress."
Liam Walmsley had an impressive start to his Bulldogs career on Thursday, although JK revealed that his introduction into the game was carefully managed: "Liam was quite lucky on Thursday in that it was a great game for him to make his debut. It was intentional to put him on at a good time in the game and we did that, and I was pleased with how he fitted in with the other guys. It was a good opportunity to introduce Liam and we have high hopes for him."
With the squad now starting to be assembled for next year, the Bulldogs head coach is pleased with the progress being made in this area. "We're in front as far as the squad assembly goes. Last year we had no-one signed up as we headed towards the end of the season but this year we have had a very clear strategy in terms of recruitment by signing up those players we thought may be under threat from other clubs. Once Paul Harrison gets back from holiday we will work towards cementing the squad, both from within and from other clubs. We do have a shopping list, but obviously that stays under wraps for now as we do not want to alert other clubs to our intended targets. Once we have more deals tied up, you'll all be the first to know!"
Ahead of the Dewsbury game, the injury situation is looking good, and this has been an important facet of the club's development in the eyes of Kear. "Towards the end of last season, I had been in discussions with Batley, so I took a special interest in the play-offs, but one thing that was noticeable against Halifax was that the squad looked tired and bust. So, when I arrived our strategy from the off was to try and stay injury free and rotate the squad where possible. I make no apologies for this strategy as it has kept us relatively fresh. We monitor all the minutes each player is involved, how many carries and tackles they make and only one player - Mark Applegarth - has arguably played more than he should and that's because he has been so damn good in his position. We feel we can finish strongly because of our policy and we now just have three more games to nail and then it's the play-offs."
There has been much speculation about JK's position at the club and whether he intends to be at the LoveRugbyLeague.com stadium next year and he was happy to reaffirm his commitment to the club, which will be music to the ears of the Bulldogs support. "Basically, I shook hands with Kevin on a deal, and I'm stopping here as long as I'm enjoying it. Nothing has changed and it's a no-brainer for me. We're now assembling the squad for next year and that should show I'm on board here - if St Helens or England came in for me I'd have a decision to make but I'm not actively seeking to go anywhere else! I like the Chairman, I like the Chief Executive, the other board members, the players, coaches and the fans so why would I go anywhere else?"
"To be honest, if I wasn't coaching a team at this level I'd go and coach Lock Lane or Dodworth U11's! I love coaching and improving players as well as pitting my wits against other head coaches - it's in my nature. I also love the media work I do, which coaching at Batley allows so life ain't so bad at the moment and I'm really looking forward to us getting stuck into the play-offs!"
John Kear was talking to Mark Ward.