A spirited performance from Doncaster looked set to shock the Bulldogs at the Keepmoat Stadium, until Johnny Campbell's late try secured a dramatic victory for the visitors.
DONCASTER 18-24 BATLEY BULLDOGS
by Mark Ward
Kingstone Press Cider Championship, Keepmoat Stadium, 10 March 2013
You could hear the collective sigh of relief this afternoon when the hooter sounded to bring down the curtain on an encounter few had probably predicted some hour and a half earlier at the Keepmoat Stadium. Battling Doncaster had their hearts broken as they conceded a last-gasp try to condemn them, but the South Yorkshire side can take much heart from a gutsy performance that often threatened to topple their higher-ranked visitors. In the end, the Bulldogs snatched victory from the jaws of defeat with a well-worked try finished off by Johnny Campbell, but they huffed and puffed throughout the game and never looked likely to overrun a resolute Dons defensive line.
The hosts started brightly with veteran half-back Paul Cooke pulling the strings with his canny kicking game, but they fell behind on 6 minutes as the Bulldogs' benefited from George Flanagan's reverse ball hitting Dan Fleming at speed, and the dual-reg Castleford forward barrelled over the line from close range. Tom Hemingway converted the extras and the Bulldogs were up and running. The Bulldogs continued to threaten and were almost in again on 12 minutes, but Miles Greenwood failed to reel in Jason Walton's short pass, and then three minutes later Dennis Tuffour's explosive run looked set to score for the Dons until Campbell expertly shepherded the winger out of play near the line.
With the game at the quarter-way mark, Ben Black and Greenwood combined well to skittle the Dons' defence, but with the Batley full-back charging towards the line he inadvertently passed the ball to an opposition player. Gradually, the hosts forced their way back into the game and got their reward on 25 minutes - the otherwise outstanding John Davis missed his tackle and the ball was worked out to Touffour who managed to squeeze in at the corner. Stuart Sanderson missed the conversion, but the score fired the Dons up and an immense run by full-back Lee Waterman was halted only by the intervention of Greenwood with a last-ditch tackle in the corner.
The first-half hinged on two incidents in the dying moments; on 37 minutes Alex Bretherton burst clear towards the line, but with Gareth Potts in support, he held onto the ball too long and Potts failed to catch his loose pass at the line. It proved to be a costly error as the Dons hit the front on 39 minutes when Craig Fawcett created the opportunity for Dan Cowling to go in at the corner. Sanderson landed a superb touchline conversion and the home crowd cheered off their impressive side at the break.
HALF-TIME: DONCASTER 10-6 BATLEY BULLDOGS
The hosts could hardly have made a worse start to the second half. Firstly, they failed to deal with Hemingway's kick-off and had to drop out under the posts, then two minutes later, Waterman committed the cardinal sin of conceding a penalty whilst in possession for pushing Walton, and from the resultant set, Black found Greenwood with the freedom of the Keepmoat Stadium and he strolled in under the posts to level matters. Hemingway's simple conversion edged the 'Dogs ahead, but Doncaster continued to impress and remained confident enough to recapture the lead on 57 minutes when Waterman atoned for his earlier error by bursting through the visitors' line to touch down under the sticks. Sanderson converted again, and the Dons led 16-12.
The Bulldogs regrouped and hit back decisively on 61 minutes, when a great run from 10 metres out by the all-action Davies once again cemented his man of the match performance and pulled the visitors level again, edging 18-16 in front after Hemingway's latest conversion. Still the Dons refused to lie down however, and when George Flanagan was penalised for obstruction near his own sticks, Sanderson took the two on offer to bring the score back to 18-18 on 70 minutes.
Neither side managed to get near enough to their opponents' line to land a meaningful drop-goal attempt, but the drama came to a head in the final minute - an expansive move down the Bulldogs' right wing saw Black connect with Walton who released Campbell to score a dramatic winner to the absolute disbelief of the distraught home support. Hemingway once again converted and the visitors closed out the final seconds for a crucial win.
Quality sides learn how to win ugly - it's what wins Championships and, to this end, the Bulldogs came of age this afternoon with a vital three points. For Doncaster's part, if they play with the passion and vigour they showed today throughout the season, they should at the very least avoid being dragged into a relegation dogfight.
DONCASTER: 4 Waterman, 5 Tuffour, 24 Cowling, 20 Leaf, 2 Sanderson, 6 Cooke, 7 Fawcett, 21 Waller, 9 Kesik, 11 Robinson, 15 Kelly, 3 Spurr, 17 Edwards. Interchange: 1 Butterfield, 8 Castle, 13 Emmett, 27 Johnson.
T: Touffour, Cowling, Waterman
G: Sanderson 3
BATLEY BULLDOGS: 1 Greenwood, 2 Potts, 3 Walton, 4 Maun, 5 Campbell, 6 Black, 23 Hemingway, 8 Smith, 14 Flanagan, 19 Rowe, 27 Fleming, 16 Davies, 11 Bretherton. Interchange: 9 Mennell, 15 Hirst, 22 Scott, 26 A. Walmsley.
T: Fleming, Greenwood, Davies, Campbell
G: Hemingway 4
SCORING SEQUENCE: 0-6, 4-6, 10-6, HT, 10-12, 16-12, 16-18, 18-18, 18-24
REFEREE: Tim Roby
MAN OF THE MATCH: John Davies (Batley Bulldogs) - Mr Consistency strikes again!