Championship round-up: Batley Bulldogs miss out on play-off spot after York Knights win at Barrow Raiders
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The Bulldogs, after suffering a heartbreaking 15-14 defeat at York last Monday evening, put the pressure back onto the Knights and Halifax Panthers thanks to a second half comeback at home to Newcastle Thunder on Saturday.
But while the Panthers, despite reaching the play-offs being in their own hands, failed to deliver a crucial win against a Swinton Lions side desperate to stay in the league, York pipped the Bulldogs on points difference to sixth with their comfortable victory in Cumbria. There were just 13 points in it in the end.
On a weekend of high drama, Craig Lingard’s men did their part. Although Newcastle gave them a huge scare having led 18-12 at half-time at the Fox’s Biscuits Stadium.
Batley started in the ascendancy with club stalwart Alistair Leak producing a neat scoot and dummy before bursting through the Newcastle line to touch down.
However, despite being rock bottom and already consigned to League 1, the visitors responded through Chapelhow and Johnson to turn the game on its head.
In-form Jimmy Meadows restored Batley’s lead after getting on the end of a Josh Woods grubber but Newcastle got their noses in front by the half-time hooter thanks to Williams spotting a gap in the Batley line from close range.
A win for Batley was a must. So whatever Lingard said to his troops at the interval certainly worked as the Bulldogs scored four unanswered tries in the second half.
A Dane Manning converted try got them back level after he crashed over despite being swarmed by a group of Newcastle players.
Elliott Kear, celebrating 300th club appearances in his career, got the Bulldogs back in front and they never looked like relinquishing the lead. Jonny Campbell, in his final appearance for the club, extended the lead before Meadows wrapped up the scoring with his second of the game.
Over to you Halifax and York.
At The Shay, the calculation was fairly straightforward for Fax ahead of kick-off. Avoid defeat and their place in the end-of-season knock-out competition for the chance to reach Super League would be confirmed at the expense of Batley and York.
A Swinton win, however, would not only crush the Panthers play-off dreams, but the Lions would be able to sleep easy tonight, securing another year in the second tier after being involved in the tightest of relegation battles with Whitehaven and Keighley Cougars, who suffered defeats over the course of the weekend.
The scene set, it was all to play for at The Shay. Simon Grix, who made two changes to the 13 who started last weekend’s last-gasp win at Keighley, had insisted he didn’t mind if it was an ugly or pretty victory over Swinton. He probably would have taken more late drama over comfort, as long as his side gained the two priceless points on offer.
As it turned out, it looked like a routine stroll in the park for the Panthers after Ben Crooks went over after only five minutes. But the Lions roared back in splendid fashion to open up an 18-4 advantage at the break thanks to two tries from Mitchell Cox and one from Nicholas Gregson.
And when Rhodri Lloyd went over immediately after Lachlan Walmsley’s first of two at the start of the second half, there was to be no late drama as Fax’s season - and Grix’s time in charge of the club - ended prematurely.
This would have been good enough for the Bulldogs but in-form York took full advantage of Fax’s slip up to sneak into the play-offs, with tries from Field, Michael, Towse, Ta’ai and Santi sealing a 31-18 win at Barrow.
Just two more converted tries and a penalty would have seen Batley home.
As it is, York will now face Bradford Bulls, who finished third after beating Sheffield Eagles 17-16, at Odsal in the eliminator next weekend. Sheffield finished in fourth and will host London Broncos who condemned Keighley Cougars to relegation to League 1 thanks to a 24-16 win.