‘Proud of everything we have achieved’ - Craig Lingard leaves role as Batley Bulldogs’ head coach with head held high
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Another play-off campaign could have been added to his ‘proud’ list of achievements since taking over in September 2019.
In his four years in charge - in his third spell with the club following a sterling playing career which saw him become the Bulldogs’ all-time leading try scorer between 1998 and 2008, as well as being an assistant to John Kear from 2013 to 2016 - he has guided Batley to a play-off semi-final, a Grand Final, where they were 80 minutes away from a place in Super League, and a first ever visit to Wembley.
“It’s a period of time I can look back on and be proud of everything we have achieved,” he revealed. “A semi-final, a Grand Final, a Wembley final. I am slightly disappointed that we couldn’t make the play-offs in the final season but, looking at the strength of the squad right at the end, I don’t think we’d have made too much of a concerted effort in the play-offs anyway with the number of people being out.”
On the climax to the 2023 campaign, which saw last Saturday’s victory over Newcastle as his last game in charge after York’s win at Barrow on Sunday, which lofted the Knights above the Bulldogs into the final play-off spot on points difference, Lingard said:
“Over the course of 27 games it’s not just about one game at the end of the season. When you look at the league table at the end, you are probably where you deserve to be. We just didn’t do enough over those 27 games to get that sixth spot.
“You would have expected Halifax to have beaten Swinton at home. I know Swinton were fighting for their lives but Halifax still had something to play for themselves, so you’d have thought with home advantage Halifax would have had enough.
“But if you’re slightly off it then you will get beat. Maybe Swinton wanted it a bit more. I was certainly surprised that York made that late charge and jumped above Halifax on the last day.”
Asked if the club was in good hands with his assistant Mark Moxon being promoted to head coach, Lingard replied:
“Definitely with Mocko. He has deserved his chance at the head coach’s role. He is under no illusions that it is going to be a difficult reboot for him. We have got an ageing squad, who keep going around and keep doing the job. Eventually it is going to have to finish for some of these people. Johnny Campbell and Ben Kaye have finished this season and there’s still a couple who are undecided whether they want to go around again or not. These people are at a certain age and you’ve got to regenerate the squad and you’ve got to bring fresh blood in and try to get in equally as good players to do that.
“But to replace the quality of players that you are losing, you’ve got to pay a lot of money. It’s always been the situation at Batley. We’ve not got a benefactor who’s chucking five hundred grand a year and you can bring in all sorts of different players.
“We’ve got a track record of developing players and progressing them into Super League, which is a selling point. But money determines what people want to do as well, which is always going to be an issue. He has got to get the best squad he possibly can.”
Is this the end of the road for Lingard, who will now be a full-time assistant coach at Super League outfit Castleford Tigers, and the Bulldogs?
“You don’t ever know what’s going to happen in the future,” he said. “Who knows what rugby league is going to be like in the next five to ten years. I don’t think anybody can predict that at this moment in time.
“There are certainly no doors closed on my behalf. But I want to be looking at a long career in Super League and in full time rugby.”