BATLEY BULLDOGS’ preparations for the visit of in-form Super League side Catalans Dragons have gone well, according to coach John Kear as he aims to book his team’s place in the last eight of the Challenge Cup tonight (Fri 8pm).
The last time Batley reached the quarter-finals of the competition was back in 2010 under the guidance of Karl Harrison.
Last year the Bulldogs fell at the sixth round stage to Widnes Vikings, but Kear believes his 2016 squad is capable of going one step further.
Kear, renowned for his Challenge Cup heroics with Sheffield Eagles and Hull in 1998 and 2005 respectively, admits his players are excited about the prospect of taking to the field alongside some of the world’s rugby league greats.
“The players are buzzing, they are keen and eager and there has been a great atmosphere around the place in training,” said Kear.
“You can’t blame the lads for relishing the chance to pit themselves against the likes of Willie Mason, Jodie Broughton, Glenn Stewart and Richie Myler. The whole Catalans squad is littered with talented internationals who have proven themselves on the world stage, but we must not let ourselves get carried away with the occasion.”
Kear may have made his side’s task of overcoming the Dragons sound difficult, but he has good reason as they sit joint second in Super League on 18 points.
Batley on the other hand have struggled in the Championship of late, losing their last four matches, but in the fifth round of the Cup against Featherstone, on TV, they rediscovered their early season form that took them to the summit of English rugby league’s second tier.
“We know we’re going to have work very hard and not make mistakes, we’ve watched videos and tried to highlight some of their few weaknesses,” said Kear.
“I would have liked the weather to be bucketing it down and be really cold and for once it’s going to be warm and dry.
“But our job will be to make their job of beating us the toughest it can be. I’m sure they won’t enjoy the Mount Pleasant slope too much either, not many sides do and we’ve only lost one match this season at home (against Swinton), it’s where we’ve played our best rugby.”
A constant worry for Batley this campaign has been their leaky defence – and with the Dragons boasting a points tally only bettered by Warrington in 2016 then Kear may have cause for concern. But the experienced coach is happy to be welcoming back key players that were influential in the Bulldogs’ early-season success, bagging wins over Leigh at home and Halifax away.
“We have Wayne Reittie, Alex Rowe, Chris Ulugia, Shaun Squires and James Brown back to full fitness, so for the first time in a while I have pretty much a full squad to choose from which is good,” said Kear.
“That coupled with the fact Greg Minikin, Ryan Boyle, Callum Casey and Dave Petersen joined us last week means we’re the best equipped we can be to face the Catalans.”
Meanwhile the Dragons, who have had two extra days recovery time ahead of tonight’s game and have only missed out on the quarter final once since 2011, will be without Krisnan Inu who will miss the rest of the season with a knee injury.
But despite that injury setback Catalans will be confident of progressing to the quarter-finals after beating Batley 74-12 at Mount Pleasant in their only previous encounter at the same stage six years ago.
The French side will be eager to win tonight having never won the Challenge Cup. The closest they’ve come was a final defeat to St Helens in 2007 and many see 2016 as potentially being their year.
Batley squad: 2 Wayne Reittie, 3 Chris Ulugia, 4 Shaun Squires, 5 Shaun Ainscough, 6 Cain Southernwood, 7 Dom Brambani, 8 Keegan Hirst, 9 Luke Blake, 10 Alex Rowe, 14 James Davey, 17 Joe Chandler, 18 Tom Lillycrop, 19 Alex Bretherton, 20 Alastair Leak, 21 James Brown, 22 Dave Scott, 24 James Harrison, 6 Alex Brown, 28 Dave Petersen.