It was the match of the B’s as fourth placed Batley Bulldogs faced a Bradford Bulls who finished the regular season in fifth as they met in the first Championship Play-off Eliminator at the Fox’s Biscuit Stadium at Mount Pleasant with a semi-final place on offer for the winners.
The Bulldogs are many people’s surprise package to be in the play-off but are good value after finishing the regular season in fourth place but the Bulls won the only meeting between the two sides earlier in the season as well as both meetings in the 2019 season.
Neither side came into the game on the back of good form, but the bookies made the Bulls slight favourites to make progress.
Kicking down the slope, Batley took the lead on five minutes after Tom Gilmore kicked a twenty-metre penalty after an error by Danny Brough. The Bulls went close on thirteen through Rhys Evans, but he was held up short by an enthusiastic Bulldogs defence.
A fantastic Gilmore 40-20 on fifteen took the home side to withing twelve of the Bulls line and on the second tackle Ben Kaye snatched the opening try of the game with a scoot from dummy half. Gilmore added the conversion to stretch the lead to eight points.
It was clear that Batley meant business and obvious that the Bulls didn’t deserve the favourites tag on the evidence of the opening twenty minutes.
A tip tackle gifted Gilmore another penalty goal on thirty-three as the Bulls tried desperately to force an error and get back into the game. Within a minute the Bulldogs were in again, this time Gilmore being on hand to take a pass in an acre of space and canter twenty metres to score by the right upright. The Bulldogs were easing towards a famous victory.
Batley came within a hairs breadth of opening their second half account within the first sixty seconds, but Jordan Lilley managed to pat the ball dead in touch.
George Flanagan went close for the Bulls on fifty-one as they started to get some possession inside the Batley twenty against a tiring defence. Two minutes later and the Bulls were in when Joe Brown finished of a run from Evans as he was on hand to take the pass twelve out and fend off the tackle of Greg Johnson to dove in at the corner. Danny Brough was unable to add the extras, the Bulls 4-16 behind.
On sixty-one Flanagan crashed the Batley line but excellent defence from an aggressive defence prevented him from grounding the ball. But on sixty-four Lilley pounced on a Brough grubber to take the ball one-handed and ground by the post pas. Brough added the goal to reduce the margin to just one converted try with fourteen minutes remaining.
The Bulls were now in the ascendancy against an increasingly tired Bulldogs.
Lucas Walshaw knocked on a Kear grubber to put the Bulldogs under even more pressure and on the second play of the resulting six the Bulls were held up over the line.
On seventy-three Elliot Hall calmed Batley nerves when he stumbled out of a Kear tackle and managed to get the ball onto the line for the third Bulldogs try of the game. Gilmore converted from the touchline for a 22-10 lead, Batley easing into next week’s elimination semi-finals.
Gilmore added a drop goal on seventy-seven to seal the win as the Bulls heads dropped, realising it was now too far for them to battle back.
The Bulls ended a season which started with so much hope, on the back of four consecutive losses while the Batley Bulldogs progress on to next week and a game against either Toulouse Olympique or Featherstone Rovers for a place in the Million Pound Game and promotion to Super League. Batley are likely to be the rank outsiders for the spot in the top level, but no-one can take anything away from a brilliant performance in eliminating the Bradford Bulls.
Batley Bulldogs: Hooley, Campbell, Morton, Buchanan, Johnson, White, Gilmore (T, 5G), Brown, Kaye (T), Blagbrough, Walshaw, Manning, Flynn. Subs: Leak, Ward, Lillycrop, Hall (T).
Bradford Bulls: Kear, Brown (T), Evans, Oakes, Foggin-Johnson, Brough (G), Lilley (T), Evans, Doyle, Crossley, Rooks, Murphy, Hallas. Subs: Flanagan, Walker, Scurr, Fleming.
Referee: James Child.
Score Progression: 2-0, 6-0, 8-0, 10-0, 14-0, 16-0 : HT : 16-4, 16-8, 16-10, 20-10, 22-10 : FT.