A point wasn’t scored until the final 20 minutes but this was a compelling elimination play-off with the reigning champions Sheffield just edging Batley 16-0 for the win, writes Michael Collins.
Batley had the best of the early stages and could have been ahead at half-time but Sheffield hung in there until Etu Uaisele and Quentin Laulu-Togagae finally escaped.
The re-run of last season’s Grand Final was switched to Doncaster’s Keepmoat Stadium but even on it’s wide-open spaces this was a day when defences called the tune.
Eagles skipper Mitch Stringer led by example, backed up by Andrew Henderson, who is revelling in his final games as a player.
Batley’s pack met the challenge, with Byron Smith and former Eagles player Sam Scott strong.
Mark Aston was frustrated at times by his team’s inability to produce expansive rugby but praised their determination after a shaky start.
“Defensively we were outstanding, any team that doesn’t let points in for 80 minutes is pretty special,” he said.
“If you are going to get to a final you have to play these sort of play-off games and be strong defensively. We were and we needed to be because Batley had plenty of chances to score and we kept them out. Offensively we were poor.”
Batley only ensured their Championship status with a big win over Doncaster in the final league game and coach John Kear felt the scoreline didn’t reflect his team’s efforts.
“I’m proud of my players and I’m pleased with how they have dealt with all the adversity,” he said.
“There’s been a lot of shenanigans going on off the field which obviously affects you on the field.
“Credit to Sheffield, they hung in there. Both teams defended very well indeed and the weight of possession and field position at the end was just too much for us.
“I haven’t got a down on my players, they have done really well, it’s been a tough season but we have come through on the right side of the ledger at the end of it. We’ve protected our
Chances were few in the first half with Wayne Reittie having a try ruled out after taking a chip kick from Ben Black and Eagles’ Lelauloto Tagaloa and James Davey were both denied out at the other end.
Batley had the chance to take the lead in the final two minutes of the half with a penalty 25 metres out but Scott Leatherbarrow put his kick wide.
A desperate tackle by Yere halted Reittie as the hooter sounded. Batley were awarded a penalty but Leatherbarrow was unable to put over a tough touchline kick.
Back rower Scott was just held as he attempted to force his way over and the tide was turning Eagles’ way.
A kickable penalty was ignored but Sheffield opted to take the next with Dominic Brambani kicking the game’s first points.
A 40-20 by Brambani gave position and a penalty was spurned as Eagles went wide right for Quentin Laulu-Togagae to send Uaisele, who will play for Bradford next season, in near the flag.
The lead was pushed out with Stringer producing a great offload for Laulu-Togagae to race in for his 31st try of the season. Brambani added the
Henderson and Duane Straugheir set up the move for Uaisele’s second try to ensure Sheffield keep alive the hope of a third successive title.