BATLEY BULLDOGS missed out on the chance to play in the last eight of the Challenge Cup losing 40-4 at Mount Pleasant to Super League high-flyers Catalans Dragons.
Batley deserved huge credit for the way they started and finished this Challenge Cup tie. Unfortunately, their coach John Kear - miked up during the game in a first for British television - had to acknowledge that they “came apart a little” inbetween.
The Catalans scored four of their seven tries in a 13 minute spell at the start of the second half, when the Gallant Youths, an historic nickname that still fits them, simply could not hold them.
“I thought they played a really good game of rugby league, but I’m proud of the effort our lads put in,” said Kear, whose cup battle honours include turn-up final victories with Sheffield and Hull.
“I thought the effort, desire and commitment of the players was exceptional, but the Catalans look the real deal this season.”
It was not realistic to expect a Bulldogs team reshuffled because of illness and injury to continue Kear’s tradition for him, but they competed far better than the scoreboard reveals.
They were let down, however, by some big errors with the ball, starting with Cain Southernwood’s pass going to ground with Batley pressing in the fourth minute.
The Dragons counter-attacked and Fouad Yaha opened the scoring, despite a brave chase by Alex Brown.
They should have been further ahead when Vincent Duport, who otherwise had a strong-running and destructive game, somehow failed to put in the supporting Tony Gigot when his break had left them with a simple two-on-one.
Any wishful thinking that this denoted a general lack of concentration soon went out of the window when, a little after the
mid-point in the first half, Tom Lilycrop, fresh from the bench, lost the ball on his first carry.
Again, the Dragons showed how ruthless they can be by going to the other end for Duport to touch down.
A 12-point half-time deficit against the side running second in Super League was no disgrace, but the Catalans were just about to cut loose.
Good work by Louis Anderson gave Duport the chance for his second and Willie Mason and Duport set up the lively Richie Myler. Dave Taylor, who pressured Batley all evening with the sheer strength of his carries, claimed an easy fifth try for his side.
That was a particularly harsh one for the home side, as David Scott, generally magnificent at full-back, seemed to have averted the danger with a tremendous tackle on Julien Bousquet. It was typical of thissort of game, where you can do everything right and still finish up conceding.
What Kear called the French side's ‘empurple patch’ effectively ended with Myler sending Gigot through to touch down just before the dead-ball line.
Taylor and Jason Baitieri were penalised for a tackle that dumped Keegan Hirst on his neck. The Batley captain, expected to move up to Super League with Wakefield next season, had a fine match, especially in this second stint on the field.
He and his teammates did not deserve to be nilled and, thanks to Brown, they weren’t, the winger finishing well from a smart pass by Chris Ulugia, the other player earmarked to accompany Kear to the Wildcats next year.
Scott made his one real mistake of the game, the Scotland international full-back dropping a tricky restart under his posts. Again, the coolly professional Dragons took maximum advantage, with Gigot scoring his second.
He was another of the Catalans’ better players, while we also got another glimpse of their 17-year-old stand-off Lucas Albert, who made a couple of appearances last season.
The big difference, not surprisingly, was between full and part-time players.
As Hirst pointed out after the match, several of his teammates had worked that afternoon, before battling the best that a very good Super League could throw at them.
“Credit to them,” said the Dragons’ coach, Laurent Frayssinous, who recalled putting 74 points on Batley in their last visit to Mount Pleasant in the Cup in 2010.
“They’re a well-coached team and they have talented players.”