Halifax and the Bulldogs served up a cracking encounter at the Shay, with the lead changing hand on seven occasions before the hosts finally edged home 29-24 thanks to two tries in the dying stages of the game.
HALIFAX 29-24 BATLEY BULLDOGS
by Mark Ward
Kingstone Press Cider Championship, The Shay, 18 August 2013
If anyone connected with the two sides out on the Shay pitch this afternoon had any doubts about their side's commitment, quality or potential as we head towards the Championship play-off round, they were surely dispelled as all 34 combatants played their part in a thoroughly entertaining encounter in the sunshine. Possibly based on the recent history between the clubs, both sides bust a gut to try and secure a morale-boosting victory and it was Halifax that eventually came out on top, although the Bulldogs will feel aggrieved that they didn't head back to Batley with all three points after an excellent display.
The first ten minutes of the match set the tone for the whole encounter - good honest aggression from both packs, and defensive units definitely started on top with some ferocious tackling. The game sprang to life on 11 minutes when 'Fax took the lead with their first meaningful attack - fast hands got the ball out to the left hand side and Batley old boy Wayne Reittie forced his way in at the corner, ably supported by Steve Tyrer's towering touchline conversion. The hosts just about deserved their early advantage, although they nearly came unstuck on 17 minutes when the once-again excellent John Davies chipped the ball over the defensive on the last and flying winger Greg Johnson just failed to haul the ball in.
Halifax extended their advantage with a Tyrer penalty on 23 minutes after a high-shot was called by Mr Merrick, but it was an error by Reittie just two minutes later that gave the visitors a foothold back into the game. The winger's fancy reverse pass attempt went to ground and from the resultant set, Miles Greenwood picked a huge hole in the defensive line to score under the posts against his old club; Tom Hemingway's simple conversion under the posts brought the score back to 8-6.
Having got on the scoresheet, the Bulldogs pushed on and took the game to their opponents with telling consequences on 33 minutes. Former 'Fax favourite Ben Black's angled kick on the last seemed to completely bamboozle the home defence and it was John Davies who reacted quickest to touch the ball down for a try. Hemingway once again converted in front of the sticks allowing the Bulldogs to close out an impressive half-time advantage.
HALF-TIME: HALIFAX 8-12 BATLEY BULLDOGS
After such a tight opening forty minutes, both sides decided to give the ball some air after the break and tries a-plenty followed. The hosts recaptured the advantage on 48 minutes - substitute Lee Paterson skittled the Bulldogs defence with a superb dash and Craig Ashall was in support to score, despite the close attentions of Greenwood. Tyrer added the extras to edge Halifax 14-12 in front, but just four minutes later the Bulldogs struck back to retake the lead. A great carry from Josh Johnson gave the visitors a platform to create the opportunity for Greg Johnson to get the ball down in the corner, leaving a too-difficult conversion for Hemingway.
The points kept coming - on 61 minutes Liam Walmsley failed to halt the momentum of Ben Heaton's excellent try, and two minutes later Gareth Moore brought parity to the score at 18-18 (remember that scoreline?) with a penalty after a high-shot on Jason Walton. With the scores level, no surprises what happened next - Scott Murrell found himself with the freedom of the Shay on 67 minutes and decided to knock-over a drop-goal to put 'Fax back in command.
Still the Bulldogs weren't finished, and they took the lead again on 70 minutes with a try of real quality. Ayden Faal stepped out of a challenge and broke the Halifax line superbly before releasing Greg Johnson on his shoulder to score a spectacular effort. Gareth Moore's conversion put the Bulldogs on the front foot at 24-19, but the hosts refused to yield and on 75 minutes although Paterson's break was checked by Johnson, it was merely delaying the inevitable as Ashall crashed over for his seconf try from close range. Tyrer converted to edge 'Fax a point ahead and in the dying moments, Tyrer's excellent chip was spectacularly downed in the corner by Reittie to seal a spectacular win for Halifax.
A great advert for the Championship and, dare it be said, two sides who still have very legitimate hopes of landing this year's title on this afternoon's display. Roll on the play-offs!
HALIFAX: 1 Fieldhouse, 5 Reittie, 3 Tyrer, 16 Heaton, 29 Sheriffe, 13 Murrell, 6 Handforth, 8 Tonks, 9 Ashall, 25 B. Davies, 11 Manning, 27 Divorty, 22 Adamson. Interchange: 4 Paterson, 10 Ambler, 14 Bracek, 23 Casey.
T: Reittie 2, Ashall 2, Heaton
G: Tyrer 4
BATLEY BULLDOGS: 1 Greenwood, 2 Potts, 3 Walton, 4 Maun, 21 G. Johnson, 23 Hemingway, 7 Moore, 19 Rowe, 14 Flanagan, 27 Mullally, 17 Walmsley, 16 J. Davies, 13 Lindsay. Interchange: 6 Black, 15 Hirst, 20 Faal, 26 J. Johnson.
T: Greenwood, J. Davies, G. Johnson 2
G: Hemingway, Moore 2
SCORING SEQUENCE: 6-0, 8-0, 8-6, 8-12, HT, 14-12, 14-16, 18-16, 18-18, 19-18, 19-24, 25-24, 29-24
REFEREE: Dave Merrick
MAN OF THE MATCH: Craig Ashall (Halifax) - a good performance from dummy-half and two crucial tries.