Bulldogs hit by Faal injury blow

BATLEY BULLDOGS will have to face Sheffield Eagles without in-form centre Ayden Faal, who will miss the play-off tie after breaking his collar bone at Doncaster.

The outside back, who returned to Kear’s squad after a betting ban, incredibly played 74 minutes of his side’s victory at the Keepmoat Stadium with the injury.

Following their victory over Doncaster last Sunday – which not only ensured their survival in the Championship but also secured the last play-off spot – Batley face Sheffield in the play-offs tomorrow (Sat, 3pm).

However, they will not travel to Owlerton Stadium, instead they will once again make the trip to Doncaster’s Keepmoat Stadium after Sheffield opted for a change of venue.

It is an interesting move by the Eagles, whose form at Owlerton Stadium has been questionable, and whoever loses this tie will be eliminated from the play-offs at the first hurdle.

Despite this coach John Kear says it plays into his side’s hands and said: “We leave the change of venue to the powers that be, but in my opinion Owlerton was not fit for Championship rugby.

“The other option was the university ground and we weren’t going to play there, I think the Keepmoat is a good stadium.

“Obviously we have good memories of playing there after last weekend, but this is another day and another game.”

The Bulldogs enter the finals following two stirring victories against Swinton and Doncaster, and Kear says his side must carry on with the same must-win attitude that ensured their second-tier survival.

“The pressure has been immense on the players in the last few weeks and they have embraced it,” he continued.

“I’m hoping the two wins have prepared us well, but hopefully there will be no flatness now, there was an element of relief after the Doncaster win but I must try pick the players back up now.

“Mission one has been accomplished by staying in the division, now we are on to mission two and going as far as we can in the play-offs.

“I don’t buy into the idea of momentum, but it is a one-off game and we know we have no second chance.”

Kear also admits that he is more than aware of the challenge that lies ahead for his side, as Sheffield aim for a third Championship title in a row.

The Eagles came from behind to beat Batley in last season’s Grand Final but Kear says his players enter the game with  a  renewed confidence.

He added: “Sheffield have really stepped up in the last few weeks and have really hit form.

“But we can take heart from beating them at their place, not only was it a win but it was also a convincing win.

“Obviously it will be difficult, we have to do it the hard way with three away games this season, but I think getting to the grand final is achievable and the players have to believe that too.

“Hurdle one is Sheffield, we accept we are the underdogs, we are used to being seen as poor old Batley now but we’ve got a bark in us.”

Kear will be forced to make a number of chances to the side that beat Doncaster, with Josh Johnson returning to Huddersfield and Faal injured.

However, the Batley chief is hoping to have Byron Smith back in his line-up following a quadricep injury which saw him miss last weekend’s final fixture.

Meanwhile, In a twist in the relegation saga, Keighley Cougars are taking legal advice after they were relegated from the Championship.

The club are still furious over the RFL’s decision to re-instate three points that were taken from Batley for fielding an ineligible player – a decision which ultimately allowed the  club to survive the drop.

• Batley Bulldogs supporters club will be running a bus to Doncaster on Saturday for the Bulldogs play-off clash with Sheffield.

It leaves Branch Road at 12noon, picking up at the Tapp Rooms and in Birstall. Tickets are £10 for adults and £5 for kids, contact Dave King on 07428 107632 after 4pm for more information.

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