Batley Bulldogs produce remarkable comeback against Wembley-bound Sheffield Eagles for back-to-back Championship wins

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Batley Bulldogs scored 27 unanswered second half points as they produced a breathtaking comeback to beat a shell-shocked, Wembley-bound Sheffield Eagles at the Fox’s Biscuits Stadium.

The Eagles seemed in cruise control at half-time with an 18-4 lead given to them by James Glover, Joel Farrell and Matty Dawson-Jones. But the Bulldogs, who only had a try from Luke Hooley, on dual registration terms from Castleford Tigers, to their name in the first 40, ran in four tries in a one-sided second half.

It was a first half which was bookended by sluggishness and sloppiness by Batley, yet splendidly exchanged for a second period of pure domination as a brace from the excellent Lucas Walshaw, as well as tries from Michael Ward and Dane Manning, a Josh Woods penalty and a Hooley drop goal handed Mark Moxon’s men an unbelievable 31-18 victory.

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Moxon made three changes from the side which dramatically beat Bradford Bulls 21-20 last Sunday as Dale Morton returned to the wing with Kieran Buchanan moving to the centre in place of Johnny Mitsias. Hooley’s Castleford’s team-mates, Muizz Mustapha and George Hill, also came in to help Batley try and record back-to-back league victories for the first time this season.

Luke Hooley scoring a try for Batley Bulldogs last season against Halifax Panthers. He was on the trysheet again against Sheffield Eagles. Photo by Paul Butterfield.Luke Hooley scoring a try for Batley Bulldogs last season against Halifax Panthers. He was on the trysheet again against Sheffield Eagles. Photo by Paul Butterfield.
Luke Hooley scoring a try for Batley Bulldogs last season against Halifax Panthers. He was on the trysheet again against Sheffield Eagles. Photo by Paul Butterfield.

The Bulldogs, however, were slow out of the traps as an early penalty gifted the visitors field position with Evan Hodgson breaking down the middle but he was held up on the line thanks to some last-ditch Batley defending.

Batley, however, failed to heed the warning signs as Glover scampered over for a third minute try which was converted by Jack Hansen.

It was all Sheffield as they looked to prepare for next Saturday’s trip to Wembley - in the 1895 Cup final against Championship high-fliers Wakefield Trinity - in the best possible fashion.

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But Batley, with the seventh best defence in the 14-team league before this round 10 contest, kept them at bay. They even created a couple of decent openings themselves when they eventually managed to enter deep into the Eagles’ half as both Brandon Moore - a try scorer for Halifax Panthers in their 12-10 1895 Cup final victory over the Bulldogs at the national stadium last August - and Walshaw were held up on the line.

But Hooley, who was the unfortunate party to miss the conversion attempt for the Bulldogs after the final hooter to take the 2023 final into golden point extra time, got his temporary side back into the contest here after dropping a shoulder and creating some space to dive over in the corner. Josh Woods’ conversion attempt struck the post.

Sheffield responded with another try as second rower Farrell spotted a gap and broke through, with Hansen’s conversion making it 12-4.

Then came what could have been the game’s decisive moment - which had echoes of that 1895 Cup final. That drama arrived on 80 minutes. Here it came as the hooter sounded for half-time. Woods launched a kick into the gorgeous West Yorkshire sunshine. It was not claimed and the loose ball began to roll back down the Mount Pleasant hill where it was eventually handed to Dawson-Jones - via Anthony Thackeray and Hansen - who couldn’t believe his luck.

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Going down the famous hill in the second half, the Bulldogs had a mountain climb. For many other teams, an 18-4 deficit would have been too daunting to even attempt to scale. But not Batley.

And their start to the second half was as far away from their start to the first half as possible. It was fast and furious, and precise and controlled in equal measure. The comeback started when Woods’ kick was knocked by Morton to Walshaw who went over for his first. The momentum was swinging.

Michael Ward, in his 151st appearance for the club, then charged over. The momentum had swung.

At 18-16 down, and with 20 minutes remaining, Manning was sent to the sin bin along with Sheffield’s Bayley Liu after a scuffle. The Bulldogs were awarded a penalty as a result of the melee but Woods, unbelievably missed from in front of the posts, 20 metres out.

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It didn’t, however, prove costly as a high shot presented another chance Woods seconds later. And this time, he did not miss.

The scores were level but it was all Batley. It seemed a matter of when, not if, they would take the lead for the first time. The home fans didn’t have to wait long as Walshaw superbly bulldozed his way through a seemingly demoralised Sheffield defence before powering over the line.

A Hooley drop goal with eight minutes remaining gave the visitors - who were unable to threaten whatsoever going up the slope - more to do. Manning’s 79th minute try, after Matty Marsh was shown a red card, sealed it once and for all, as Batley made it consecutive league wins for the first time in 2024. And in fine style too.

Batley: Hooley, Morton, Senior, Buchanan, J Burton, White, Woods, Gledhill, Moore, Cooper, Manning, Walshaw, Mustapha

Interchanges: Leak, Flynn, Ward, Hill

Tries: Hooley, Walshaw (2), Ward, Manning

Conversions: Woods (4)

Penalties: Woods

Drop goal: Hooley

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Sheffield: Marsh, Jones-Bishop, Liu, Glover, Dawson-Jones, Hansen, Thackeray, Battye, Halafihi, Dickinson, Bower, J Farrell, Hodgson

Interchanges: Clark, Murphy, Wood, Sene-Lefao

Tries: Glover, J Farrell, Dawson-Jones

Conversions: Hansen (3)

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