BATLEY Bulldogs scored two tries in the second half to overturn a narrow half-time deficit and win a fourth consecutive Boxing Day derby.
With severe rainfall placing the game in jeopardy, Rams groundsman Paul Moore deserves enormous credit for ensuring that the action went ahead.
The hosts handed debuts to new signings Josh Guzdek, Paul Sykes, Dom Speakman, Andy Kain, Matt Groat and Kyle Trout, while there were opportunities for Bulldogs new recruits Dave Scott, Danny Cowling, Dominic Brambani, James Davey and Zack McComb.
The conditions took their toll on ball handling and neither side was able to mount much in attack for large periods of the encounter.
As is usually the case on this occasion, both teams took the opportunity to regularly rotate their options through the frequent introduction of substitutes, which also contributed to the stop-start nature of the contest.
The Rams dominated the penalty count during the early exchanges,
with referee Tom Grant frequently penalising the visitors for holding down in the tackle.
And their territorial advantage handed Jason Crookes the opportunity to scramble over in the left corner following quick hands.
Sykes was unable to convert, but the former Featherstone Rovers player’s territorial kicking helped keep the hosts on top during the opening period.
Keegan Hirst and debutant Brambani were stand-outs for Batley during the first 40, and the introduction of James Brown from the bench noticeably lifted the visitors.
Crookes had a try ruled out by the touch judge in an identical position, for a forward pass, which offered the Bulldogs hope for the second half – and they started it brilliantly.
They regained possession from their kick-off, providing a taster of what was to come, as John Kear’s men starved the Rams of possession and mercilessly peppered their defensive line with determined drives and dangerous kicks.
And it didn’t take long for Batley to take the lead.
Shaun Ainscough’s off-the-cuff kick in to the in-goal area was left to trickle to a standstill by the Rams defence, just shy of the dead ball line, allowing former Dewsbury player
Alex Bretherton to pounce to the satisfaction of the referee.
Brambani added the conversion to make it 4-6 and the visitors quickly extended their lead when Cain Southernwood’s perfectly weighted cut-out pass sent Ainsough over on the overlap, and though the winger was able to improve the angle, Brambani scuffed the conversion.
The Rams continued to be their own worst enemies, turning over possession on numerous occasions through handling errors and indiscipline, while attacking kicks from Brambani, Southernwood and Pat Walker caused the hosts endless problems.
A penalty just over 10 minutes from full-time, booted over by Walker, proved to the be the game-breaker, setting up an eight-point advantage.
The Rams finished the game on top, but they were unable to craft out an opportunity to add a second try.
A crowd of more than 2,000 braved the biblical weather conditions and, though the game was far from a classic, it offered more than 10 new signings a chance to impress, and left neither coach with further injury problems.
The Bulldogs will welcome back Chris Ulugia and Sean Hesketh before the start of the season, while Rams boss Glenn Morrison can look forward to the introduction of Tony Tonks, Scott Hale, Rob Spicer, Aaron Brown, Karl Pryce and Ben Reynolds, who all missed the game through injury, while 2015’s leading try-scorer Dalton Grant was also rested.
Both head coaches have their eyes on a top six finish in 2016 and, though it was difficult to conclude much from this first hit-out, the Bulldogs certainly appear to be far better equipped creatively, while the Rams’ strength in depth should also serve them well during the campaign ahead.