BATLEY BULLDOGS are one win away from heading to Wembley for the first time – and coach Matt Diskin has promised that his players will “leave everything out there” in their pursuit of history.
They will go into Sunday’s 1895 Cup semi-final at the Olympic Legacy Park (kick-off 2pm) as underdogs against a Sheffield side that have not only won twice as many Championship games this season, but have handed the Bulldogs two beatings already in 2019.
Batley are winless in their last seven league games, but have found salvation in this cup run. They beat Rochdale in the second round before Louis Jouffret’s drop goal in golden-point extra-time sealed a dramatic win at York in the quarter-finals last month.
Meanwhile, Sheffield have defeated Halifax and Doncaster on their way to the last four of the competition, which was introduced this year to give lower-league clubs an opportunity to play at the national stadium alongside the Challenge Cup final.
Diskin has made no secret of the club’s desire to take the 1895 Cup seriously this season, and he declared once again: “Batley have never appeared at Wembley, and we want to be the first ones to do it.”
The two occasions on which the Bulldogs and the Eagles have clashed this season have not been pretty for the Mount Pleasant men. On their previous visit to Sheffield in March they were beaten 44-16, and things were no better in last month’s return fixture as they suffered a 54-24 thrashing in their own home.
The signs all appear to point towards a Sheffield success – but Diskin is a firm believer in a well-travelled adage.
“It’s an old cliché, but you can throw form out of the window,” he said. “It’s an 80-minute performance for one of the teams to go to Wembley, and we want to be that team.
“It’s going to be tough but I know that, emotionally and physically, my team are going to leave everything out there on that park.
“Sheffield have embarrassed us on a couple of occasions this year and we want to put that right and set that record straight first and foremost. The prize at the end of it this week is a lot more than it is most weeks.
“They’ve been our two worst performances of the year. When we’ve come up against Sheffield we’ve allowed them to play on their own terms and although they are a very good side, we’ve made them look even better than they are.
“We need to make sure that we make as few errors as possible, because that seems to be at the forefront of our play at the moment: errors and discipline. If we can control those two areas then we know we’ll be in with a chance.
“We’re under no illusions: we’re the underdogs. Nobody will expect us to win, and we’re playing away from home, but as a group we’ve got some real quality and we know that if we can deliver on the day, if we keep hold of the ball and control our discipline, then we’ll be in with a shout.”
Injuries have not been Batley’s friend of late with Diskin finding himself down to his last 17 players in last week’s trip to Leigh, even with the inclusion of Leeds loanee Sam Walters for his debut in the back row.
Dane Manning returns from suspension but there is little sign of a let-up on the injury front, with Diskin having his “fingers crossed” that one or two players may be ready in time for Sunday.
Former London Broncos and Dewsbury prop Toby Everett will make his 100th career appearance if he plays for the Bulldogs in South Yorkshire.