JUBILATION: Batley hooker George Flanagan celebrates his match-winning drop goal
BATLEY BULLDOGS reached the Championship Grand Final for the first time after recovering from 18-0 down to pip table-toppers Featherstone in sudden death extra time.
In a repeat of the previous week’s 15-14 golden point victory at Leigh Centurions, the Bulldogs won a pulsating qualifying semi-final with George Flanagan’s drop goal in the sixth minute of extra time.
Fifth-placed Batley, who finished 13 points adrift of Featherstone in the table, now face holders Sheffield at Leigh Sports Village next Sunday after ending Rovers’ seven-match winning run and ruining their bid for a fourth successive Grand Final.
Batley coach John Kear could not disguise his delight after masterminding another upset to book a showdown against his former club Sheffield.
“It was important that we’d done the same thing in extra time against Leigh the previous week,” he said.
“At the end of full-time, we said we’d been here before and know how to play golden point so let’s go out a do it and they did that.
“We had rehearsed the Flanagan drop goal because we know they’d spot Gareth Moore and Ben Black so you need and alternative.”
Trailing 18-0, Batley got a vital score on the stroke of half-time when Alex Rowe forced his way over and Gareth Moore kicked the first of his four goals.
“That try just before half-time was the game turner,” added Kear.
“By scoring that try the gap was down to two scores and I thought it gave us a real opportunity. The call was to be patient and to play to the 80 minutes and that’s exactly what they did.
“It was very hot conditions and we knew gaps would open up. That’s what happened and we were fortunate enough to take advantage of it.
“We have a thing about Bulldog spirit and I think they showed that today. They were hanging on by their fingernails but they found a way of getting back on top of the cliff and then looking after themselves.
“My wife thinks I’m mad still being in coaching but I keep telling here I coach for days like this.
“It’s days like this when you can feel group elation and group emotion and you just can’t buy it.”
The Rovers, who had to shuffle their team when Andy Bostock was injured in the warm up, made the early running but they wasted an excellent attacking position when Greg Worthington lost the ball in a tackle five yards from the try line.
Worthington quickly made amends when he darted over from Finn’s pass for the opening try after four minutes.
With half backs Ben Black and Gareth Moore in lively form, Batley rallied strongly and enjoyed a spell of pressure. It ended when Jack Bussey intercepted John Davies’s pass and made a 75-yard run.
Worthington then forced a drop out when he pinned Miles Greenwood in his own in-goal area after the Bulldogs full back allowed the ball to bounce from Finn’s high kick.
Another towering kick from Finn then saw Rovers stretch their lead. Batley failed to deal with it and Will Sharp and Andy Kain handled to send in Ian Hardman for a 16th minute try that Finn goaled.
Flanagan was halted inches short of the try line as the Bulldogs tried to haul themselves back into the game.
But the visitors were unable to apply any sustained pressure and they fell further behind in the 30th minute when Lamont Bryan, Kain and Finn made the opening for Hardman to race over for his second try that Finn again converted.
The Bulldogs then lost Jacob Fairbank with a fractured shoulder before Finn edged Rovers further ahead with a 35th minute penalty goal.
Batley finally opened their account on the stroke of half-time when Flanagan sent Rowe crashing over from close range after Keegan Hirst was halted just short. Moore’s conversion cut the gap to 18-6.
Batley started the second half strongly but they were let down by a forward pass when they got close to the try line.
Bulldogs winger Greg Johnson then went over at the corner but the effort was ruled out for another forward pass in the build up.
Finn kicked a 54th minute penalty to put Rovers 20-6 ahead but, with the aid of an 11-4 penalty count in their favour, the Bulldogs eventually got the breakthrough they needed when Paul Mennell and Byron Smith kept the ball alive superbly for Gareth Potts to score at the corner and Moore added a touchline goal.
Eight minutes from time, the Bulldogs cut the deficit to two points when Moore, John Davies and Alex Bretherton sent in Greg Johnson and Moore again converted.
The visitors levelled the scores in the 78th minute when James Lockwood was penalised for a high tackle on Mennell and Moore kicked a 50-yard penalty.
The Bulldogs nearly snatched victory in the final minute of normal time when Black burst through and fed Liam Walmsley but he was halted just short by Will Sharp and James.
In extra time, Finn failed with two drop goal attempts and Black had an effort charged down by Ben Kaye before Flanagan landed his crucial drop goal to spark wild celebrations for Batley’s players, coaches and supporters.
It was another hearbreaking defeat for Rovers, who lost the 2010 Championship Grand Final 23-22 to Halifax with Ben Black’s extra-time drop goal and were also beaten by Sheffield in last year’s Grand Final.
It means that, despite winning the League Leaders’ Shield in each of the last four years, they have gone on to be crowned champions of the division just once.
ROVERS: Ian Hardman 8; Will Sharp 7; Vince Mellars 7; Greg Worthington 7; Tommy Saxton; Andy Kain 7; Liam Finn 7; Steve Crossley 7; Ben Kaye 7; Matt James 7; Matty Dale 7; James Lockwood 7; Jack Bussey 7. Subs: Sam Barlow 7; Jonny Hepworth 7; Lamont Bryan 7; Andy Ellis 7.
Tries: Worthington (4), Hardman (16, 30).
Goals: Finn 4/5.
BULLDOGS: Miles Greenwood 7; Gareth Potts 7; Jason Walton 7; Alex Bretherton 7; Greg Johnson 7; Ben Black 7; Gareth Moore 8; Byron Smith 8; Paul Mennell 7; Anthony Mullally 7; Jacob Fairbank 7; John Davies 8; Ashley Lindsay 7. Subs: George Flanagan 7; Keegan Hirst 7; Alex Rowe 7; Liam Walmsley 7.
Tries: Rowe (40), Potts (64), Johnson (72).
Goals: Moore 4/4.
Drop goal: Flanagan (86).
Referee: Chris Leatherbarrow
ThePress Man of The Match: Gareth Moore – Led the Bulldogs' fightback superbly, proving a threat throughout.
Match Rating: 5/5