The Bulldogs made hard work on Good Friday of beating a gallant Hunslet Hawks side, but eventually came through to register a 28-12 victory and move into third place in the Kingstone Press Cider Championship table.
BATLEY BULLDOGS 28-12 HUNSLET HAWKS
by Mark Ward
Kingstone Press Cider Championship, LoveRugbyLeague.com Stadium, 29 March 2013
It spoke volumes this evening at a freezing LoveRugbyLeague.com Stadium that the loudest voice in the stands came from an increasingly frustrated Hunslet Hawks coach Barry Eaton. A former darling of the terraces at Batley, it was a cruel evening for Eaton, as he saw his side deservedly open up a 0-12 lead, before being penned back and eventually overhauled by an improving Bulldogs outfit. Entering the final play of the game, the Hawks were holding on for a bonus point until the hosts delivered a last-gasp try to even deny Eaton that pleasure.
The cold conditions never looked likely to provide a classic, and so it proved. John Kear's side were sluggish throughout a fairly dire first half, and their insistence on taking on a lively Hawks' pack through the middle looked set to make for a frustrating evening until the Bulldogs utilised the excellent kicking skills of Tom Hemingway to peg their opponents back in a second half they dominated down the slope. The Hawks by contrast controlled much of the first half with some stalwart defensive efforts, but Eaton's side were very much second-best once the 'Dogs found their kicking boots.
The game opened up in a scrappy manner, with neither side stamping their authority on proceedings, although the Hawks, with the slope at their backs, certainly had the better of the opening exchanges and it was no surprise that it was they who opened the scoring on 16 minutes after a spell of pressure concluded with John Oakes going over under the sticks, comfortably converted by scrum-half Danny Ansell. The try clearly rocked the Bulldogs back on their heels, and they fell further behind just four minutes later when veteran winger Waine Price profited from a lax home defensive line to coast in, again ably converted by Ansell to leave the host 0-12 adrift. At this point, few in the ground would have predicted that the Bulldogs were about to post 28 unanswered points to secure victory, as Hunslet were most definitely on top.
The Hawks continued to dominate, constantly puncturing the hosts' defensive line with some powerful running but rather tellingly, no end product. Bulldogs hooker George Flanagan provided a lifeline for the hosts, slightly against the run of play, when he darted in from close range on 27 minutes, and Hemingway's conversion reduced the arrears to a more manageable 6-12. Four minutes prior to the interval, Jason Walton could have levelled matters off, but he failed to reel in Ben Black's difficult pass with the line beckoning and at the other end, Black's brave tackle on Liam Welham saved a certain try right on the half-time hooter.
HALF-TIME: BATLEY BULLDOGS 6-12 HUNSLET HAWKS
The hosts' second-half showing was a considerable improvement, which will have no doubt relieved the Bulldogs' faithful. There was a reliance on kicking early in the tackle count and forcing the Hawks to carry the ball back up the slope which gradually fatigued the visitors enough for Batley to wrestle control of the game. Indeed, the writing was on the wall after 51 minutes when Hemingway intelligently cannoned the ball off a Hawks defender's legs and had presence of mind to scoop up the loose ball and dive over the line to score, before converting his own try to level the game at 12-12.
This heralded a period of rather startling indiscipline from the visitors, conceding possession for dissent and spearheaded by an increasingly frustrated David March, who spent much of the second half in conversation with referee Leahy. The Bulldogs took full advantage; on 62 minutes, the returning Paul Mennell set up Alex Bretherton to score in the corner and although Hemingway missed the conversion attempt out wide, tellingly they had hit the front for the first time in the match and the Hawks visibly wilted.
The hosts continued to press - both Flanagan and Walton losing the ball near the line, but it was the reintroduction of powerful prop Keegan Hirst, against his former club, that secured victory for the Bulldogs. Hirst barrelled over from close range on 76 minutes as the Hawks tired and then, in the cruellest of blows for the visitors, Black set up the big prop to score again and prevent Hunslet picking up a bonus point with the last play of the game.
No doubting that Batley won ugly again this evening, but on a day when some of the top sides struggled, three points were the important issue, irrespective of the calibre of performance and it was once again pleasing to see the Bulldogs achieve those points without hitting any dizzying heights. And we all know what lies ahead on Monday!
BATLEY BULLDOGS: 1 Greenwood, 2 Potts, 3 Walton, 20 Faal, 21 Johnson, 6 Black, 23 Hemingway, 8 Smith, 14 Flanagan, 19 Rowe, 11 Bretherton, 16 Davies, 17 L. Walmsley. Interchange: 9 Mennell, 13 Lindsay, 15 Hirst, 25 Leary.
T: Flanagan, Hemingway, Bretherton, Hirst 2
G: Hemingway 4
HUNSLET HAWKS: 31 Watson, 2 Price, 29 Keinhorst, 4 Welham, 33 Chisholm, 6 Grimshaw, 20 Ansell, 10 Menzies, 9 Haigh, 32 Singleton, 12 Oakes, 16 Haughey, 13 March. Interchange: 5 Brickwood, 8 Yates, 15 Houston, 17 Hughes.
T: Oakes, Price
G: Ansell 2
SCORING SEQUENCE: 0-6, 0-12, 6-12, HT, 12-12, 16-12, 22-12, 28-12
REFEREE: Jamie Leahy (Dewsbury)
MAN OF THE MATCH: Tom Hemingway (Batley Bulldogs) - an outstanding kicking game this evening.