The Bulldogs concluded their regular season this afternoon with a routine 34-16 defeat of the York City Knights, who controversially ended the match at the Huntington Stadium with 11 men after a late double sending-off by referee George Stokes.
YORK CITY KNIGHTS 16-34 BATLEY BULLDOGS
by Mark Ward
Kingstone Press Cider Championship, Huntington Stadium, 1 September 2013
A match-up between a side already doomed to relegation and one guaranteed to finish fifth barring an unlikely situation at Leigh (which ironically nearly occurred) was the recipe for a sterile, end-of-season encounter, and for the best part of an hour that was exactly what was served up. The game then sprang to life in the final quarter, as the Bulldogs woke from their slumber and the Knights were subjected to some questionable decisions from the officials before being reduced to 11 men in the dying moments of the game.
The bottom of the pile Knights made a pretty decent fist of things in truth, and probably deserved their lead midway through the second-half after contributing well to the game. Both George Elliott and Ben Johnston were outstanding all afternoon, causing the visitors all kinds of problems with their pace and inventiveness, but as the Bulldogs turned the screw late on, the hosts visibly wilted although their performance was probably deserving of a bonus point. By contrast, the Bulldogs, who rested several key players in favour of an influx of dual-registration players, looked dull and lifeless for much of the game and were grateful to Anthony Mullally, whose second-half reintroduction provided the platform for victory, as the visitors put their collective feet to the pedal late on, with Paul Mennell also influential.
The first-half was something of a routine affair - sets played out with little attacking flair, and it was not much of a surprise that the opening 26 minutes remained scoreless; the closest attempt to score had come in the 12th minute when Elliott broke clear and fed Johnston, who promptly lost the ball in the tackle with the Bulldogs stretched. The deadlock was broken by Ben Black's canny reverse pass to Mullally, and the prop barged through the York defensive effort to plop the ball down over the line, ably converted by Tom Hemingway. Buoyed by the opening score, the visitors stepped up a gear - on the half-hour, Hemingway just failed to reel in Black's dab through, but three minutes later, the Bulldogs were in again. Liam Walmsley managed to get a pass out of the back door as he hit the ground and Danny Maun steamed in out wide. Once again, Hemingway converted a more difficult kick and the visitors were in command at 12-0.
The scoreline was rough justice on the Knights, who had gone toe-to-toe with their opponents, so there was a modicum of justice on 38 minutes when Alex Bretherton failed to track Johnston's run to the corner for a formality of a try. Tom Carr added the extras to leave York just six points adrift at the interval.
HALF-TIME: YORK CITY KNIGHTS 6-12 BATLEY BULLDOGS
With momentum on their side, the hosts started the second half strongly and had hit the front just short of the hour mark. On 47 minutes, Hemingway's high bomb on the last pitched between Johnny Campbell and York's Elliott, but the latter reacted more responsively, snapping up the high ball and then haring down the exposed Bulldogs right wing to score a spectacular try. Carr failed to land the conversion, but you could sense the tide was turning and the Knights' comeback was completed on 56 minutes when Johnston cut through again before releasing Jonny Presley to the line. This time Carr did tag on the extras to push the hosts into a 16-12 lead.
The final twenty minutes saw the game turn on its' head as the Knights became visibly more frustrated by the officials' performance and the Bulldogs sensed the opportunity to establish a firm grip on the game. On 61 minutes, Mennell's inventive dash gained the metres for the 'Dogs and set the platform for Bretherton to release Gareth Potts in at the corner. Hemingway failed with the conversion, but the scores were now level and the Bulldogs looked like they meant business.
So it proved, as the visitors posted a devastating trio of tries in the space of six minutes. On 67 minutes, the effervescent Mennell twisted and turned near the line to crash over, and this was backed up three minutes later by Mullally's buccaneering dash as he carried several markers over the line with him for a thrilling try. Hemingway converted both efforts to leave the Bulldogs 28-16 to the good. On 73 minutes, Miles Greenwood got in at the corner to complete the try scoring and confirm victory.
Matters then worsened for York considerably in the dying moments - Joe Pickets saw red on 79 minutes for a bad challenge on Campbell and Sam Scott followed his team-mate down the tunnel just moments later for going in knees-in at the tackle and then seemingly discussing the matter a little too vehemently with Mr Stokes. Hemingway opted to slot over the late penalty to secure a 34-16 success.
On this showing, the Knights should be well-positioned to make a swift return to the second-tier next season, but for the Bulldogs, the hard work starts here as they now prepare for sudden-death play-off football, starting with the visit of confirmed 8th placed finishers Workington Town next weekend.
YORK CITY KNIGHTS: 1 Carr, 2 Elliott, 13 Craig, 23 Latus, 20 Dent, 24 Johnston, 7 Presley, 16 Nicholson, 9 Lee, 10 Aldous, 11 Scott (sent off 79), 15 E. Smith, 5 Pickets (sent off 78). Interchange: 18 Freer, 21 Broughton, 22 Stenchion, 25 Iley.
T: Johnston, Elliott, Presley
G: Carr 2
BATLEY BULLDOGS: 1 Greenwood, 2 Potts, 20 Faal, 4 Maun, 5 Campbell, 6 Black, 7 Hemingway, 8 B. Smith, 9 Mennell, 28 Mullally, 11 Bretherton, 17 Walmsley, 13 Lindsay. Interchange: 25 Leary, 26 Leak, 27 Johnson, 30 Fairbank.
T: Mullally 2, Maun, Potts, Mennell, Greenwood
G: Hemingway 5
SCORING SEQUENCE: 0-6, 0-12, 6-12, HT, 10-12, 16-12, 16-16, 16-22, 16-28, 16-32, 16-34
REFEREE: George Stokes
MAN OF THE MATCH: Anthony Mullally (Batley Bulldogs) - changed the whole landscape of the game with his second-half reintroduction and powerful running.