HALIFAX PANTHERS 6-19 BATLEY BULLDOGS
Keith McGhie, The Shay, Saturday
ANY harsh words that coach Craig Lingard may have spoken after his side’s pre-season performance at Featherstone certainly had the desired effect as the Bulldogs responded to earn a thoroughly deserved place in next weekend’s second round.
Lingard was equally forthcoming with his praise this week as his charges came up with a totally committed defensive display that frustrated Halifax and ultimately gained the visitors a first win in four attempts at the Shay, dating back to early 2016.
Tries from newboys Jack Logan and Jodie Broughton plus a vital ‘nerve calmer’ by ex-Fax hooker Ben Kaye weres enough to clinch the win but it was at the other end of the park that a tight and occasionally error-strewn match was really won.
The Panthers, with that wonderful run to the semi-finals less than two years ago still fresh in the memory, gave competitive debuts to Connor Robinson, Liam Harris, Nick Rawsthorne, Dan Murray and Gadwin Springer.
Their West Yorkshire rivals paraded six new acquisitions in Jodie Broughton, Tom Gilmore, Kieran Buchanan, Josh Tonk, Logan and student world cup star Elliot Hall, whilst the Bulldogs included several ex-Fax players, although potentially two of the most significant – Dane Manning and Anthony Bowman – along with the club captain James Brown, were ruled out through injury.
But former Shay favourites Kaye, Broughton, Gilmore and Ben White did take to the field for the men from Mount Pleasant, for whom off the bench captain Alistair Leak was rewarded for his seven year stint the club with a 150th appearance.
For almost half an hour it was stalemate with Fax skipper Brandon Moore and Murray, starting his second stint with the Shaymen, going closest to breaking the deadlock with drives in quick succession to within half a yard of the whitewash.
Jacob Fairbank broke but lost possession 20 metres further forward, as Luke Hooley was forced off after suffering a blow to the nose in the tackle.
The impressive Dale Morton was taken out after a high kick from White and the offended against Batley back took the opportunity to edge the first ever winners of the Challenge Cup ahead with the penalty just before the half-hour mark.
Within two minutes Morton broke free down the right wing and Logan was on hand to cover the last 40 metres and score beside the posts.
Morton added his second goal in as many minutes to give the visitors an 8-0 half time lead.
Ten minutes after the restart Buchanan plucked the a high ball from a defender’s grasp and fed Broughton who scored but Morton’s kick agonisingly struck the near upright and bounced out, meaning Fax were potentially still only two scores adrift.
The hosts quickly took advantage as a Harris kick wasn’t dealt with and Matt Garside pounced to help halve the deficit as Robinson added the conversion.
Fax piled forward looking for more and only a brilliant tackle prevented Scott Grix grounding in the corner when Fax attacked down the left with a three on one man advantage.
It seemed the now backs-against-the-wall Bulldogs would have to score again and Kaye, left at first receiver after an earlier drive, obliged with a close range try 13 minutes from time. Robinson threatened once more when Moore and Murray created an opening but again a last ditch hand dislodged the ball and White finally sealed Batley’s passage with a late one-pointer.
GAMESTAR: Josh Tonks – Described by his coach as “outstanding” in epitomising the all-effort Bulldogs display to edge the honour from Dale Morton and Tom Gilmour
GAMEBREAKER: Batley couldn’t relax until the Ben White drop goal went over as Halifax still threatened.
Match Report courtesy of League Express
Drop Goal: White (67)
SCORING SEQUENCE: 0-2, 0-8, 0-12, 6-12, 6-18, 6-19
Rugby Leaguer & League Express Men of the Match:
Panthers: Josh Tonks
Bulldogs: Gadwin Springer
Penalty count: 2-5
Six again: 4-2
Referee: Ben Thaler