On a freezing night in west Cumbria, the battling Bulldogs edged out an improved Barrow Raiders at Craven Park to claim a 20-10 win, and top spot in the Championship table.
BARROW RAIDERS 10-20 BATLEY BULLDOGS
by Mark Ward
Kingstone Press Cider Championship, Craven Park, 21 February 2013
Winless Barrow Raiders gave the Bulldogs a tough workout this evening at a bitterly cold Craven Park, but the visitors' extra touch of class and guile was enough to grind out an important victory and head to the summit of the Championship pile. The Raiders had dominated the first half hour, and although Batley came back strongly, it would have been harsh on Darren Holt and his charges had they not secured their much deserved bonus point.
The conditions these evening were never likely to produce a classic encounter, but both sides did their best to play out an entertaining game which ebbed and flowed throughout the 80 minutes. In the early stages of the game, Barrow belied their lowly league position to smother their opponents and retain large swathes of possession. Regrettably for the Raiders though, they generally failed to test the Bulldogs near their own line and after 29 minutes of dominance, they only had a solitary 6th minute try to their name after Liam Campbell's pass was hauled in by Adam Clay at the corner to lead 4-0. Winger Lee Haney had threatened to add to the scoring on 23 minutes, but Johnny Campbell's timely tackle prevented the Cumbrians extending their advantage.
As the half-hour mark approached, the visitors finally found their feet and in a devastating spell up to the interval, they crushed their opponents with three quickfire tries. Gareth Potts, Danny Maun and Greg Johnson piggy-backed the Bulldogs upfield during an excellent set and Ben Black then created the opportunity for Alex Bretherton to scramble over the line on 29 minutes, ably converted by Tom Hemingway. It was even better news for the visitors just five minutes later when sheer strength from Dan Fleming got him past Larkin and Kaighan on the line and again Hemingway obliged with the extras. The comeback was completed on the stroke of half-time when Black was again the architect as he found the returning Maun near the whitewash.
HALF-TIME: BARROW RAIDERS 4-16 BATLEY BULLDOGS
The interval arrived at the wrong time for the Bulldogs and they once again struggled to find their feet at the start of an austere second period. When Keegan Hirst knocked on in a dangerous position on 55 minutes, the Raiders took full advantage from the resultant set when Finch released Liam Campbell to cut through the visitors' back line with embarrassing ease to score. Kaighan's conversion brought the score back to 10-16 and the Bulldogs once again looked edgy with only a score between the two sides.
The small band of visiting supporters needn't have worried however, and Batley all but clinched the points on 63 minutes. The excellent Johnny Campbell started the move with a scampering run before Black and Mennell combined and Greg Johnson stepped back inside Kaighan to score out wide. Although Hemingway failed with the conversion, with a ten point advantage the Bulldogs were able to close out victory with only a spirited chip and charge from Chris Larkin causing any concern on 70 minutes.
Given the conditions and the midweek travel, the Bulldogs should be pleased with the result even if the performance demanded further improvements ahead. For Barrow's part, they demonstrated that they are starting to find their feet and the Cumbrians should be encouraged by the deserved bonus point and a much improved performance.
BARROW RAIDERS: 2 Haney, 22 Clay, 23 Wiper, 3 Larkin, 20 Backhouse, 6 Kaighan, 7 L. Campbell, 25 Whitehead, 19 Mossop, 15 Dawson, 11 Harrison, 12 Haggerty, 13 Toal. Interchange: 8 Brennan, 14 Finch, 16 Jones, 18 Haggarty.
T: Clay, L. Campbell
BATLEY BULLDOGS: 2 Potts, 21 Johnson, 3 Walton, 4 Maun, 5 J. Campbell, 6 Black, 23 Hemingway, 8 Smith, 14 Flanagan, 12 Applegarth, 11 Bretherton, 16 Davies, 13 Lindsay. Interchange: 9 Mennell, 15 Hirst, 17 L. Walmsley, 27 Fleming.
T: Bretherton, Fleming, Maun, Johnson
G: Hemingway 2
SCORING SEQUENCE: 4-0, 4-6, 4-12, 4-16, HT, 10-16, 10-20
REFEREE: Chris Leatherbarrow
MAN OF THE MATCH: Johnny Campbell (Batley Bulldogs) - worked hard throughout ... good breaks and defensively sound, getting back to his best!