Challenge Cup: Craig Lingard does not want 'focus' to be on him upon Batley Bulldogs return with Castleford Tigers in sixth round tie

When Craig Lingard makes his way through the players and officials entrance at Mount Pleasant tomorrow (Saturday), the Castleford Tigers head coach needs to ensure he finds the next correct door.
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For over ten years as a one-club man player, and then for four successful seasons as the boss, Lingard had always ventured into the home dressing room at Batley Bulldogs’ famous stadium.

That will change on Saturday when he returns to the club for the first time since moving to the Mend-A-Hose Jungle on a permanent basis at the end of 2023. Never before has he stepped foot in the visiting changing room.

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“It will be a strange day,” Lingard admitted to the Batley News and Pontefract and Castleford Express. “It will be the first time I’m at the club and not representing Batley as I didn’t go there with Keighley.

Craig Lingard celebrates after leading Batley Bulldogs to the final of the 1895 Cup last season. Photo by Paul Butterfield.Craig Lingard celebrates after leading Batley Bulldogs to the final of the 1895 Cup last season. Photo by Paul Butterfield.
Craig Lingard celebrates after leading Batley Bulldogs to the final of the 1895 Cup last season. Photo by Paul Butterfield.

“It will be strange walking into the away changing rooms and standing in the away dugout for the first time.”

But Cas’ new head coach is adamant the occasion - a sixth round Challenge Cup tie - should not be about him. It is purely about securing the Tigers’ first competitive win of the season after five successive defeats in Super League, avoiding an upset and progressing into the next round.

“I don’t want the focus to be on me,” he said. “But I know all the focus will be on this because I left Batley to go to Castleford. But for where we are in our season there is a bigger story than me going back to Batley.

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“It’s about us having a good performance and getting our first win of the season and getting into the next round of the cup.

“In terms of me going back there, I’m not going to get drawn into that emotional side of the occasion. Maybe after the game, once we have done the job, and are hopefully in the next round, I can maybe relax a little bit and enjoy the occasion after the event.

“Certainly before, I am not going to let it impact anything or take away any focus from what we need to do on Saturday.”

Lingard’s successor at Batley, Mark Moxon, has insisted there is “no pressure” on the Championship side and that the game is a “free hit.”

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Lingard agrees: “100 per cent. That is what these games are about in the Challenge Cup when you get a Championship team that plays against a Super League team. It is a free hit for them.

“I know exactly what Mocko will be saying. He’ll be building it up that all the pressure is on us as we haven’t won a game all season and that it’s an opportunity for them to make a name for themselves. All the stuff you would do as an opposition coach facing a Super League team that hasn’t won a game all season.

“It’s not necessarily mind games, it’s just the obvious thing you would say as a coach to get your team up for it. I worked with them long enough to know how good they are and how resilient they are and how dogged they are.

“They will be looking forward to the occasion and making a name for themselves.”

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Asked if he felt any pressure going into the game, Lingard firmly responded:

“Not at all. If you feel that pressure and you let it show and it passes onto your players then it’s not great. I am fully confident in our guys to get the result and hope we have a really good performance as well.

“We have had times in games this season where we have looked really good and times where we have looked really bad. It’s about us developing as a team and making sure our good periods are longer than our bad periods.

“It will be a good indicator for these guys to see where they are, playing against a really good Championship team with some really experienced players. What we can’t do is take this for granted.

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“I know what these guys are like at Batley, I know what they are about. I have been with them long enough to know that if you give them an inch they will take a mile.

“We can’t let our standards drop and expect that just because we’re playing a Championship side we will get the victory. If we do that then we will get beat.”

He added: “We know that they are going to have that first 10 to 15 minutes where they will be really enthusiastic and energetic and we need to make sure that we manage that. What we don’t want to do is give them a sniff.

“We need to be professional and clinical. First and foremost, we need to defend tough and restrict the amount of metres they make and try to be dominant defensively.”

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He may be entering into a different changing room on his first return to the Mount, but he will still be going to the same bar afterwards to join up with the Batley family - although he is hoping to celebrate a Cas victory.

He said: “It’s professional sport. Regardless of what history I have got with the club and what relationships I had and still have got, they all go out of the window for these 80 minutes.

“Hopefully after the game we can smile and enjoy a celebratory drink as we certainly want to be in the next round of the cup.

“Hopefully, it will be a really big money spinner for Batley.”