A late rally earned the Bulldogs a dramatic 18-18 draw with Halifax at the LoveRugbyLeague.com Stadium on Thursday night.
BATLEY BULLDOGS 18-18 HALIFAX
by Mark Ward
Kingstone Press Cider Championship, LoveRugbyLeague.com Stadium, 28 February 2013
A second-half Jekyll and Hyde performance from John Kear's charges demonstrated the worst and the best of the Bulldogs as the hosts rescued a valiant 18-18 draw to dent Halifax's 100% start to the Kingstone Press Championship. After Batley opened up a slender 8-6 advantage at the interval, Halifax benefited from lax marking and poor handling from their opponents to seemingly secure victory before the Bulldogs stormed back in the closing minutes to record an improbable draw.
'Fax opened up in the brightest possible fashion - Scott Murrell's piledriving 40/20 kick put the visitors deep inside Bulldogs territory and from the resultant set, the hosts' defensive line was hopelessly stretched on 3 minutes, allowing Steve Tyrer to go in at the corner for an unconverted try to edge Karl Harrison's side into a 4-0 lead. To their credit, Batley regrouped well, and received a lifeline on 7 minutes when an unpressurised Ricky Sheriffe spilled Tom Hemingway's bomb to give the Bulldogs excellent field position; the hosts built pressure on the Halifax line and on 8 minutes Paul Mennell burrowed over from close range, comfortably converted by Hemingway to swing the 'Dogs into a 6-4 advantage.
Halifax fought back and almost recaptured the lead on 12 minutes, but Luke Ambler knocked on as he touched down from close range. Moments later, Jason Walton's high shot on Scott Murrell gave Tyrer the opportunity to restore parity to the scoreline. The match then descended into something of a stalemate with the strong defences on both sides of the park cancelling each other out. The deadlock was finally broken on 34 minutes - George Flanagan was hampered at the play-the-ball, and Hemingway slotted over the ensuing penalty to give the Bulldogs an 8-6 lead heading into the break. The visitors pressed strongly as the interval approached and looked set to breach the Bulldogs defence again until Adam Robinson foolishly conceded a penalty early in the tackle count on the Batley line after pushing Johnny Campbell over.
HALF-TIME: BATLEY BULLDOGS 8-6 HALIFAX
No doubt geed up by their half-time exchanges, the Bulldogs dominated much of the early stages of the second half, keeping Halifax penned in their own half despite playing up the slope. The hosts continued to wind up the pressure on their opponents, but failed to pierce a spirited defensive effort from 'Fax. Their profligacy in attack would cost the Bulldogs dearly, and following on from a dubious penalty award on 61 minutes the visitors hit the front after Ben Black and Walton failed to pick up Paul Handforth from the resultant scrum and the former Batley half-back sauntered in almost unchallenged at the corner. Tyrer's conversion edged Halifax into a 12-8 lead their second-half play had scarcely deserved.
The Bulldogs continued to press on the 'Fax line, but despite their best efforts, the visitors continued to hold firm with Alex Rowe going close and Hemingway finding Miles Greenwood on the line, but with a forward pass. The hosts were also lucky not to be reduced in numbers during an altercation between Byron Smith, Sam Barlow and Alex Rowe as tempers started to flare. On 71 minutes, the visitors appeared to have secured victory following on from Greenwood's spill after Handforth's kick on the last - from the resultant set Robinson and Dane Manning combined to send in Heaton to score and Tyrer's conversion pushed 'Fax ten points clear as we approached the closing stages.
Unfortunately for Halifax, with five minutes to go, their attempt to play expansive rugby undid them as Tyrer fumbled a long pass. Black snapped up the loose ball and carried it as far as his legs would go before releasing Gareth Potts to hare clear and score. Hemingway's conversion was chalked off by the touch judges however, leaving the Bulldogs six points adrift with just a few minutes left. The stadium sensed the game was not over and so it proved as Mennell and Black combined to send in Campbell at the corner for a spectacular try just short of the hooter to cap an excellent display from the Batley winger, who injured his ribs in scoring. With the last kick of the game, out on the touchline, Tom Hemingway brought back memories of a similar situation from five years ago on live TV when he landed a faultless conversion to tie things up at 18-18 on the hooter, thus replicating the score between these two sides in last month's friendly.
Much to ponder for both coaches post-match, but JK will surely be relieved to have rescued a draw from an unlikely situation whilst puncturing 'Fax's 100% start to the season in the process, to jump to second in the league ladder.
BATLEY BULLDOGS: 1 Greenwood, 2 Potts, 3 Walton, 11 Bretherton, 5 Campbell, 6 Black, 23 Hemingway, 8 Smith, 9 Mennell, 19 Rowe, 12 Applegarth, 16 J. Davies, 13 Lindsay. Interchange: 4 Maun, 14 Flanagan, 15 Hirst, 27 Fleming.
T: Mennell, Potts, Campbell
G: Hemingway 3
HALIFAX: 1 Fieldhouse, 2 Worrincy, 16 Heaton, 3 Tyrer, 29 Sheriffe, 6 Handforth, 13 Murrell, 8 Tonks, 9 Ashall, 10 Ambler, 27 Divorty, 11 Manning, 12 Bracek. Interchange: 7 Thackeray, 15 Robinson, 17 Barlow, 23 Casey.
T: Tyrer, Handforth, Heaton
G: Tyrer 3
SCORING SEQUENCE: 0-4, 6-4, 6-6, 8-6, HT, 8-12, 8-18, 12-18, 18-18
REFEREE: George Stokes
MAN OF THE MATCH: Johnny Campbell (Batley Bulldogs)