The Bulldogs concluded their regular-season campaign with a disappointing 26-20 defeat at the hands of Halifax at the Shay. The hosts stormed back to overturn a 14-point deficit to leave the Bulldogs facing a tricky play-off encounter at Sheffield Eagles next Sunday.
HALIFAX 26-20 BATLEY BULLDOGS
Co-operative Championship, The Shay, 2 September 2012
An entertaining end of season encounter at the Shay ended in delight for the hosts as they secured home field advantage in the play-offs, leaving the Bulldogs to do it the hard way after finishing fifth in the final league ladder. On a blisteringly hot afternoon, the two sides put on a great advertisement for Championship rugby league with an end-to-end encounter which had the 2,000+ crowd on the edge of their seats from the first minute to the last.
Much had been made of the pre-match comments in the build-up to this key clash, but the game was played in a sporting environment with both sides having spells in the ascendancy in phases. For Halifax's part, Karl Harrison's side started brightly, but then lost control the game for almost 50 minutes. Trailing by 14 points, the hosts blasted back in the final half-hour to dominate proceedings and score the three tries they required for victory against the shellshocked visitors with powerful forwards Luke Ambler, Makali Aizue and Jim Gannon all working hard to secure the three points. The Bulldogs on the other hand played some exhilarating rugby while on top, but then seemed to switch off when leading 20-6 and as Halifax upped the ante, the visitors failed to respond accordingly, and once the scores became tied at 20-20 the game was only going to go the way of 'Fax, although the likes of Ash Lindsay, Johnny Campbell and Mark Applegarth scarcely deserved to be on the losing side after some sterling performances.
As one would expect in a game of this magnitude, the opening exchanges were tense and fairly even - neither side seemed capable of establishing control and the first real opening of any note came on 9 minutes as Lee Paterson failed to haul in Sean Penkywicz's pass with the line in view. The home supporters didn't have long to wait however for the first score of the afternoon which arrived on 14 minutes after a spell of sustained pressure as Anthony Thackeray combined well with Luke Ambler who had the freedom of the Shay to break the Bulldogs' defensive line to score with ease. Steve Tyrer added the extras and 'Fax were up and running.
Five minutes later, the visitors came very close to restoring parity but James Green juggled the ball as he went over from Ben Black's pass and lost what looked a certain try. However, the Bulldogs by now had started to dominate proceedings with inventive running from the likes of Brown, Campbell and Lindsay and it soon became merely a matter of time before they scored. On 24 minutes, powerhouse prop Alex Walmsley careered through the 'Fax defence from close range to level matters after Gareth Moore had converted his try.
Batley continued to press their opponents in their own half and went in front just four minutes later when a great scamper from Lindsay set the platform for Black to twist and turn near the line to plonk the ball over the whitewash from a seemingly impossible angle. Once again, Moore added the extras and was on hand to land a further two points six minutes from the interval as the hosts were caught offside in front of the sticks to leave the visitors in a strong half-time position.
HALF-TIME: HALIFAX 6-14 BATLEY BULLDOGS
Although the interval clearly arrived at the right time for the under-the-cosh hosts, the Bulldogs opened the second half in convincing fashion and extended their lead on 43 minutes when Walmsley scored his second try of the afternoon with an amazing 40 metre charge to the line as the Halifax defence failed to ground him. Moore added his fourth kick of the afternoon and the visitors looked to be cruising; in fact it nearly got a whole lot worse for 'Fax on 47 minutes but with the try-line beckoning Jason Walton couldn't gather in Black's towering kick.
Little were we to know at that point that Walton's failure to score would signify a barnstorming comeback from Halifax in the final half-hour that would wrestle the three points on offer from the 'Dogs. On 49 minutes, after a brief spell of pressure from the hosts, veteran forward Makali Aizue crashed over from close range to reduce the arrears. Tyrer's conversion brought 'Fax to within 8 points of their opponents, and on 62 minutes they edged ever nearer as Ryan Fieldhouse veered in at the corner and another Tyrer conversion made the score 18-20.
By now, Batley were scarcely able to break out of their own-half, such was Halifax's dominance, with former Bulldog Paul Handforth by now a constant threat coming off the bench. With twelve minutes remaining, and John Kear's side hanging on by their fingertips, Mark Applegarth was penalised for laying on Handforth after the tackle and Tyrer gratefully took the two on offer to bring the scores level at 20-20 and the writing was on the wall. With just four minutes remaining, the hosts struck the killer blow as the impressive Ambler again trundled over from close range to secure a (just about) deserved victory for Halifax. Tyrer's final conversion left the closing score at 26-20 to divert 'Fax to a home play-off with Keighley and the Bulldogs with a tough assignment in Sheffield next Sunday at 3pm. Both today's combatants could yet meet again further into the play-offs to reprise today's outstanding encounter. We shall see.
HALIFAX: 1 Fieldhouse, 2 Worrincy, 3 Paterson, 4 Tyrer, 5 White, 6 Penkywicz, 7 Thackeray, 8 Ambler, 9 Ashall, 10 Aizue, 11 Heaton, 12 Robinson, 13 Gannon. Interchange: 14 Casey, 15 Tonks, 16 Barlow, 17 Handforth.
T: Ambler 2, Aizue, Fieldhouse
G: Tyrer 5
BATLEY BULLDOGS: 1 Campbell, 2 Potts, 3 Walton, 4 Maun, 5 Brown, 6 Black, 7 Moore, 8 Smith, 9 Mennell, 10 Green, 11 Bretherton, 12 Applegarth, 13 Lindsay. Interchange: 14 Wildie, 15 Hirst, 16 A. Walmsley, 17 L. Walmsley.
T: A. Walmsley 2, Black
G: Moore 4
SCORING SEQUENCE: 6-0, 6-6, 6-12, 6-14, HT, 6-20, 12-20, 18-20, 20-20, 26-20
REFEREE: Matthew Thomason
MAN OF THE MATCH: Jim Gannon (Halifax)