Batley Bulldogs on Wembley trail again after dramatic late drop-goal seals thrilling win over Featherstone Rovers in 1895 Cup
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Josh Woods proved to be the hero with the boot, as his late drop goal sealed a 15-14 victory after Rovers had fought back from a 12-6 half-time deficit.
The Bulldogs had to be strong defensively for large periods but it was ironic this crucial win arrived thanks to Woods’ kicking when their heartbreaking defeat in last season’s final at Wembley - the club’s first ever appearance at the national stadium - came at the expense of a difficult missed conversion attempt from Luke Hooley with the last kick of the game against Halifax Panthers.
Playing up the famous slope in the first half, the Bulldogs were battling against a strong Fev outfit who hammered Hunslet 62-12 in their opening group match last Sunday, as well as an unpredictable swirling wind, which caught out the unfortunate Robbie Butterworth after only four minutes.
Tom Lacans’ high kick would have proved difficult for any full-back but the additional factor of the cold breeze didn’t help Butterworth who failed to catch it cleanly. And Fev punished them clinically with Greg Minikin going over straight from the scrum.
However, Batley’s never-say-die attitude formed under Craig Lingard showed it was still present under Mark Moxon in his first competitive game in charge as they levelled instantaneously with Luke Cooper, on his debut, powering over from close range.
What a moment for the Batley-born forward who signed for the club, which he was a ballboy for, at the end of last season after spending 13 years at Rovers.
The excellent Woods converted and then struck a penalty to put the home side in front, 8-6.
The momentum had swung in the Bulldogs’ favour and they gained a numerical advantage when Daniel Addy was sin-binned after 18 minutes for a late tackle. Woods missed the penalty but Batley managed to add four points with the extra man thanks to Elliot Kear flying over in the corner.
The final 20 minutes of the half, however, was all in Batley’s half as Moxon’s men had to defend set after set after set. But they defended heroically as, despite their attacking dominance, Featherstone could not break through and trailed 12-6 at the break.
Playing downhill in the second half, and with the wind behind them, Batley looked to extend their lead but Dale Morton was denied a certain try in the right corner by a superb tackle.
That moment seemed to give the impetus back to the visitors who camped in Batley’s final 20 metres until the pressure finally told with last week’s hat-trick hero at Hunslet, Gareth Gale, touching down.
The missed conversion saw Batley hold a slender 12-10 lead with 25 minutes remaining. But thoughts of them seeing out the reverse scoreline of their Wembley final defeat against Fax were scuppered when Connor Wynne played in Manoa Wacokecoke for a simple try.
But Batley, yet again, refused to buckle and got back on level terms through a Woods penalty. And Woods kept his composure to nail a dramatic drop goal with barely two minutes remaining to seal a thrilling 15-14 win.
The Bulldogs now know that if they beat Hunslet in two weeks time they will progress into the quarter finals of the 1895 Cup, where they will be looking to go one result better than 2023.
Batley: Butterworth, Morton, Buchanan, J Burton, Kear, White, Woods, Gledhill, Leak, Cooper, Manning, Walshaw, Blake
Interchanges: O Burton, Flynn, Moore, Ward
Tries: Cooper, Kear
Penalties: Woods (2)
Drop Goal: Woods
Featherstone: Aekins, Wacokecoke, Wynne, Minikin, Gale, Reynolds, Lacans, Springer, Jones, Massey, Day, Hardcastle, Addy
Interchanges: Bowes, Roberts, Kamano, England
Tries: Minikin, Gale, Wacokecoke
Referee: Cameron Worsley