In dramatic circumstances, the Bulldogs progressed in the play-offs this afternoon with a tense 15-14 victory over the Leigh Centurions at the LSV. Gareth Moore was the stand-out performer, but it was half-back partner Ben Black who landed an 88th minute golden-point drop-goal to secure a clash with Featherstone next Sunday at the BigFellas Stadium.
LEIGH CENTURIONS 14-15 BATLEY BULLDOGS
by Mark Ward
Kingstone Press Cider Championship Play-off, Leigh Sports Village, 15 September 2013
The Championship bandwagon will carry on rolling for at least one more week as the 'Dogs dug deep at the LSV to close out a determined and gritty victory over the Leigh Centurions. The hosts outscored the Bulldogs by three tries to one, but tellingly, John Kear's side took all the points that came their way and held their nerve as the game moved into extra-time with Ben Black securing a dramatic winning drop-goal after 8 minutes extra-play.
The Centurions had come back from 14-6 down to level matters, but with half-back partners Martin Ridyard and Ryan Brierley off key, and Sean Penkywicz's powder surprisingly kept dry until late on, the Bulldogs took full advantage with Gareth Moore's masterclass from scrum-half pointing the visitors towards a thoroughly deserved victory.
The driving rain and swirling wind suggested that a points-fest would be unlikely, and so it proved, but both sides did all they could to provide an attractive and entertaining game in what were, quite frankly, appalling conditions. Scoring chances were, in truth, hard to come by in the early stages of the game; Black almost engineered an opportunity on 8 minutes when he found Johnny Campbell out wide, but the Bulldogs winger was bundled into touch by his enthusiastic markers with the try-line beckoning. Two minutes later, John Davies clashed with Steve Maden, and referee Thomason awarded Batley a penalty, and Moore took the opportunity to open the scoring with a successful kick.
The Centurions responded well and when Liam Walmsley spilled the ball under no real pressure, the hosts took full advantage on 14 minutes when Ridyard's canny slide kick was downed by Adam Higson at the corner. Ridyard added the conversion and the Bulldogs fell 6-2 in arrears. However, as the half wore on, so Moore's kicking came more to the fore and on 18 minutes his high bomb was spilled by Gregg McNally. From the resultant set, Anthony Mullally drew a penalty and Moore slotted over to pull the score back to 6-4.
As the conditions worsened, so the visitors turned the screw and when Ryan Brierley slipped as he kicked on the sixth tackle giving Bulldogs great field position, they scored an outstanding try on 25 minutes. It was that man Moore again, holding up a kick to the corner; Campbell leapt like a salmon to knock the ball backwards and Alex Bretherton somehow managed to down the ball superbly in the tightest of angles to score. Moore then landed an outstanding touchline conversion to edge the Bulldogs 10-6 in front, and when Higson dropped on George Flanagan illegally on 31 minutes the diminutive half-back slotted over a further two points to make it 12-6. With the half drawing to a close, Moore attempted a rather feeble drop-goal attempt on 35 minutes, but the visitors held out for a creditable interval lead.
HALF-TIME: LEIGH CENTURIONS 6-12 BATLEY BULLDOGS
The second-half continued the theme of the first - on 42 minutes another Higson infringement on Flanagan allowed Moore the opportunity to goal the penalty and crucially put the Bulldogs two scores in front at 14-6. To be fair, falling behind by eight points seemed to galvanise the Centurions and they enjoyed their best spell of the game - Ridyard banged in a superb 40/20 that came to nothing then Pownall touched down in the corner but was pulled back for a push in the build-up by Simon Finnigan. The hosts then controversially forced their way back into contention on 52 minutes with a hotly-disputed try. Sean Penkywicz's pass to Finnigan had clearly travelled well forward, but it was missed by the officials and the try was given. Ridyard missed the difficult conversion but the Centurions were very much back in the hunt at 14-10.
The hosts were nearly in again on 55 minutes but Pownall lost the ball at the corner, but as Leigh continued to kick on, they scored again on 66 minutes when Ridyard again kicked to the corner and Pownall touched down with no-one at home. Crucially again, Ridyard failed with the extras to leave the game tied at 14-14.
The remaining ten minutes of the game saw both sides trading truly atrocious attempts at field goals from ludicrous distances and positions in a frantic attempt to avoid extra-time. Both Moore and Ridyard were in truth never in danger of scoring and the closest either side came to breaking the deadlock was Campbell's attempt to squeeze in at the corner on 79 minutes from Black's pass. However, there was still final drama to be played out - Campbell cleaned Higson out with the final play of the game, leaving both players in a heap and Ridyard with a penalty just inside his own half to win the game. Fortunately for the Bulldogs he miscued the attempt and we headed towards a golden point game ...
FULL-TIME: LEIGH CENTURIONS 14-14 BATLEY BULLDOGS
Extra-time was a tense affair with the game mirroring the final ten minutes of normal time, both sides forcing silly attempts early in the tackle count. On 88 minutes, the Bulldogs finally realised they needed to get much closer to the sticks to secure victory and when the ball found Ben Black in centre field, he coolly slotted over to prompt jubilant celebrations both on the pitch and terraces to set up that titanic clash with Fev next week for a place in the Grand Final ...
LEIGH CENTURIONS: 1 McNally, 2 Maden, 3 Littler, 22 Higson, 5 Pownall, 6 Ridyard, 7 Brierley, 19 Ostick, 9 Beswick, 21 Duffy, 11 Finnigan, 12 Goulden, 13 Aspinwall. Interchange: 14 Penkywicz, 15 Thornley, 32 Bate, 34 Spencer.
T: Higson, Finnigan, Pownall
BATLEY BULLDOGS: 1 Greenwood, 5 Campbell, 3 Walton, 11 Bretherton, 21 Johnson, 6 Black, 7 Moore, 8 Smith, 9 Mennell, 27 Mullally, 16 Davies, 17 Walmsley, 13 Lindsay. Interchange: 14 Flanagan, 15 Hirst, 19 Rowe, 30 Fairbank.
G: Moore 5
SCORING SEQUENCE: 0-2, 6-2, 6-4, 6-10, 6-12, HT, 6-14, 10-14, 14-14, FT, 14-15
REFEREE: Matt Thomason
MAN OF THE MATCH: Gareth Moore (Batley Bulldogs) - overshadowed Martin Ridyard in the battle of the tactical kickers!