The Bulldogs kept alive a mathematical hope of finishing fourth after this evening's superb 24-18 defeat of the in-form Leigh Centurions, courtesy of Paul Mennell's 79th minute match-winning try.
BATLEY BULLDOGS 24-18 LEIGH CENTURIONS
by Mark Ward
Kingstone Press Cider Championship, loverugbyleague.com Stadium, 22 August 2013
The Bulldogs bounced back from the disappointment of the Shay on Sunday to register a morale-boosting defeat of the side just above them in the table, the Leigh Centurions, this evening. John Kear's side continued their demonstrable recent improvement again, but crucially tonight they delivered the late knockout blow, rather than being on the receiving end as at Halifax. Both sides stood toe-to-toe for much of the encounter, but the hosts, buoyed by an excellent display from their back three, simply wanted it more than the Centurions, epitomised by their last-gasp try to secure three points.
The 'Dogs were out of the blocks quickly this evening and registered on the scoreboard after 3 minutes; the ever-impressive John Davies unlocked a path for Miles Greenwood to charge in for a score, but Gareth Moore was surprisingly off-key with what looked to be a fairly routine conversion to leave the score at 4-0. Although the host continued to control the opening phase of the game, the Centurions roared back into contention on 13 minutes. Firstly, Stuart Littler and Ryan Brierley tore up the left side of the Batley defence and on the last tackle, Johnny Campbell was left exposed and Martin Ridyard's pinpoint kick to the corner was ably touched down by Matt Gardner. Ridyard added the extras and the visitors edged 6-4 in front.
The tight nature of the game was illustrated just four minutes later as the Centurions were penalised for laying on and Gareth Moore elected to take the two on offer, thus restoring parity to the scoreline at 6-6. On 24 minutes, Greg Johnson failed to haul in Ridyard's high bomb and from the resultant set Ryan Brierley found an angle through the Bulldogs' defensive line and was dragged over the line by his markers to score an unconverted try. Referee Merrick then ruled a Bulldogs obstruction on 29 minutes and Ridyard's simple penalty gave Leigh a 12-6 advantage.
Mr Merrick incensed the home support just four minutes from the break, when he pulled play back for a Leigh obstruction after George Flanagan had gained possession of the ball, haring towards a probable try, leaving the beleaguered referee to run the gauntlet from the home fans at the interval.
HALF-TIME: BATLEY BULLDOGS 6-12 LEIGH CENTURIONS
After the interval, the Bulldogs bossed much of the game helped in no small part by the buccaneering running of Keegan Hirst and Alex Rowe, and this became reflected in the scoreline after a strong start to the half. On 45 minutes, the livewire Flanagan wriggled free of the line and dashed down the slope before releasing the supporting Ben Black to the line. Once again Moore missed what looked a comfortable two points, but the hosts had laid down a marker for the remainder of the half, closing to within just two points of their opponents. There was even better to come for the 'Dogs on 51 minutes - Jason Walton intercepted a loose Centurions pass to break down their attack before finding Johnny Campbell who sprinted in to score. There was a fracas under the sticks after it looked like Campbell had received some rough treatment on scoring and Mr Merrick pulled both skippers together after the melee but took no further action. Moore slotted over the extras, and the hosts were back in front at 16-12.
The Bulldogs almost added to their lead on 58 minutes, but Greg Johnson just ran out of room trying to down Moore's diagonal kick, but moments later, the hosts drew a penalty for a shoulder charge and Moore extended their advantage to 18-12. The game became more tense - Moore attempted a drop-goal unsuccessfully with 11 minutes remaining before Leigh forced four successive sets leading to John Pownall getting in dramatically at the corner on 76 minutes after extended pressure. Ridyard's faultless conversion pulled the score back to 18-18 and the ground held its' breath ...
The final act of drama was played out in the dying moments; with the home support baying for a drop-goal, the Bulldogs went for it near the line and Paul Mennell crashed over from close range to win the match, ably converted by Moore. It was, in truth, no more than the hosts had deserved. The maths are now simple - to break the top four, Batley must beat York a week on Sunday and hope that their bitter rivals, Dewsbury managed to win at Leigh AND deprive them of a bonus point. It looks a very big ask all round but, hey, you never know!
BATLEY BULLDOGS: 1 Greenwood, 5 Campbell, 3 Walton, 20 Faal, 21 G. Johnson, 6 Black, 7 Moore, 19 Rowe, 9 Mennell, 27 Mullally, 11 Bretherton, 16 Davies, 13 Lindsay. Interchange: 14 Flanagan, 15 Hirst, 26 J. Johnson, 30 Fairbank.
T: Greenwood, Black, Campbell, Mennell
G: Moore 4
LEIGH CENTURIONS: 1 McNally, 2 Maden, 3 Littler, 4 Gardner, 5 Pownall, 6 Ridyard, 7 Brierley, 19 Ostick, 9 Beswick, 34 Spencer, 15 Thornley, 12 Goulden, 13 Aspinwall. Interchange: 8 Hopkins, 14 Penkywicz, 16 Briscoe, 32 Bate.
T: Gardner, Brierley, Pownall
G: Ridyard 3
SCORING SEQUENCE: 4-0, 4-6, 6-6, 6-10, 6-12, HT, 10-12, 16-12, 18-12, 18-18, 24-18
REFEREE: Dave Merrick
MAN OF THE MATCH: John Davies (Batley Bulldogs)