THIS COULD have been Batley’s big moment – but instead John Kear’s men suffered a reality check.
The visit of table-topping Sheffield was an exciting prospect, not only the chance to end a painful hoodoo but an opportunity to take control of the sport’s second tier.
But the Bulldogs, who required victory by more than 12 points to move to the summit, knew they had to perform against a champion side striving to make it 13 victories on the bounce.
With so much riding on the outcome of the top-three clash, endeavour was never going to be an issue for the hosts, who always seem to struggle against this South Yorkshire outfit.
But an inability to convert possession into points proved costly and it resulted in Batley fighting to simply seal a bonus point, as torrential rain lashed their Mount Pleasant home.
Star man Dominic Brambani led the Eagles’ assault, which the Bulldogs struggled to repel during the opening exchanges against trying elements.
The visitors were soon ahead and led at the break, albeit by four points following a stint against the infamous slope, after an error-strewn first half.
Even so, Sheffield were in the driving seat and appeared to have control.
A pair of unforgivable individual errors had allowed the title-holders into double figures, but the Bulldogs came out fighting after the break.
The Eagles refused to ease off the accelerator, though, and pressure told on the Batley line 11 minutes in.
From there the Heavy Woollen outfit struggled to remain in contention, though a late shot at goal offered a platform to pounce from.
Batley ensured they wouldn’t leave empty handed, but errors prevented them from halting the Eagles’ winning streak stretching back to April.
Matters had begun badly for the hosts.
Ex-Dewsbury Ram Brambani kicked superbly towards isolated Batley winger Gareth Potts, who coughed up possession, allowing Michael Knowles to pounce.
Video referee Ben Thaler gave the Sheffield back-rower the nod, though Brambani’s conversion attempt swung wide of the mark.
The Bulldogs hit back with a try of tremendous quality, however, as Knowles’s opposite number John Davies charged through.
Davies moved past a pair of would-be tacklers before brilliantly passing inside to eventual scorer Ben Black, who juggled nervously before touching down for Gareth Moore to convert.
But their time in the ascendancy was short-lived as Potts came up with another howler.
In for the absent Johnny Campbell, the winger gathered a long Brambani kick but failed to see off the Eagles’ chase.
And while attempting to escape the in-goal, a second former Ram came back to haunt the Bulldogs; Patch Walker snatching the ball from Potts’s grasp to score beneath the uprights.
The ex-Wakefield player was spared further embarrassment in the minutes that followed after watching a Brambani 40-20 trickle over the sideline.
Australian half back Black provided a rollicking and Batley survived Sheffield’s subsequent onslaught, the Eagles battering the Bulldogs’ left-hand channel.
Yet the opening half ended with further frustration for most of the 725 in attendance as Black knocked on from a penalty.
The Bulldogs pushed, but to no avail following the resumption.
And Sheffield extended their advantage after three successive sets inside their opponents’ quarter, Duane Straugheir grabbing a much-deserved try on 52 minutes.
The showers slowed as the hour approached, but the door remained firmly closed despite Dogs George Flanagan and Byron Smith going within inches of the whitewash.
Twelve minutes from time Batley were awarded a penalty, a position to strike from, but instead opted for a shot at goal.
Moore did not disappoint with the boot, but his side were 14-8 down on the scoreboard.
Sheffield moved to seal their success with a drop-goal in the dying minutes, though Walker struck uncharacteristically wide.
But they need not have panicked as the Bulldogs failed to make the most of their opportunities, twice handing over in dangerous positions while bidding to snatch an undeserved two points.
BULLDOGS: Miles Greenwood 8; Gareth Potts 5; James Walton 6; Ayden Faal 6; Greg Johnson 7; Ben Black 8; Gareth Moore 6; Byron Smith 6; Paul Mennell 7; Dan Fleming 7; John Davies 7; Liam Walmsley 7; Ashley Lindsay 6. Subs: George Flanagan 7 ; Alex Rowe 6; Josh Johnson 6; Jacob Fairbank 6.
Tries: Black (18)
Goals: Moore 2/2
EAGLES: Quentin Laulu-Togagae 8; Misi Taulapapa 8; Tom Armstrong 7; Menzie Yere 8; Scott Turner 7; Patch Walker 8; Dominic Brambani 8; Peter Green 7; Andrew Henderson 8; Mitch Stringer 7; Michael Knowles 8; Duane Straugheir 8; Joe Hirst 7. Subs: James Davey 7; Alex Szostak 7; Matt Garside 7; Liam Higgins 7.
Tries: Knowles (3), Walker (26), Straugheir (52)
Goals: Brambani 1/3
ThePress Man of The Match: Ben Black - The Australian half-back proved a constant threat for the Bulldogs
Weather: Heavy Rain
Match Rating: 2/5
By Ryan Sparks