With Leigh Centurions comfortably into the Million Pound Game with a comprehensive win over the York City Knights, all that remained was to determine their opposition next Sunday night as Featherstone Rovers took on the Batley Bulldogs for the chance to take a tilt at Super League rugby in 2023.
The home side were massive favourites with the bookies and the pundits and been handicapped by sixteen points on the coupon before kick-off. But coach Brian McDermott was cautious coming into the game as Batley were unbeaten in 2022 by Rovers having drawn 20-20 when the two sides met in March before recording a 28-20 victory away in June.
Both sides were unchanged from their last outing.
Batley, playing down the slope, belittled their underdogs tag early on as they took the game to their lofty opposition, Tom Gilmore slotting over a fifth minute penalty goal after Featherstone protested a Rob Hicks decision.
On seventeen the visitors extended their lead with fast hands to the left side, Gilmore finding Kieran Buchanan who passed out to Jonny Campbell to crash over in the corner. Gilmore added the conversion from the touchline for 8-0, it wasn´t going to plan for Featherstone.
A sensational pass from Josh Hodson found Hooley in a clear training field move for the Batley full back to jink past the defence and walk in without a single hand laid on him. Gilmore added the conversion for 14-0, Featherstone being outplayed across the park.
On twenty-six Rovers opened their account with Craig Hall taking a soft pass from Junior Moors and going ten metres for a walk-in try. The Featherstone full-back converted his own try, the Batley lead down to eight points.
A beautiful dummy from James Meadows on the Featherstone ten metre line saw the Batley substitute cross for the third Bulldogs try of the afternoon. Gilmore added the conversion for 20-6 with three minutes remaining, the visitors taking the full benefit from the slope in the first half to establish a fourteen-point lead.
The paint would have been blistering on the walls of the Featherstone dressing room at half time as the home side came out with a downhill advantage, McDermott´s words still ringing in their ears.
It took under three minutes for Rovers to score their first try of the second half, Josh Hardcastle taking a short pass from Matty Wildie and finding a big gap in the defence to go over. Hall curled his kick between the uprights for 12-20.
But on fifty it was Batley who crossed next, despite appearing to drop the ball in the build-up. Alistair Leak found Lucas Walshaw in support close to the Featherstone line and a soft pass put the second rower over. Gilmore was on target again for 26-12.
The response came from Featherstone within four minutes when Johnathon Ford passed to Hardcastle to dive over. Knees in the tackle saw the referee give an ´eight point try´, Hall unable to add the conversion but later adding the penalty goal.
It was end-to-end excitement with Batley scoring their fifth try of the afternoon when Dane Manning chased a grubber kick and collected on the line to ground. Gilmore added the conversion to re-establish the fourteen-point lead.
Poor discipline was costing Featherstone dearly as the game passed the hour mark.
Fourteen minutes remained when Joey Leilua broke from his own thirty, feeding Ryley Jacks to make it to the Batley forty, before finding Connor Jones to accelerate to the line for the four pointer. Hall hit the upright with his conversion, Featherstone still ten behind.
Two minutes later Leilua broke for twenty metres before throwing a no-look pass to Luke Briscoe to go over in the corner. Hall added the conversion, and the margin was down to four points with just over ten minutes remaining. The game was now in the balance after it had looked like it was going Batley’s way.
With the clock running down both sides resorted to panic rugby, Featherstone pushing for the try they needed, Batley trying to turn defence into attack. Inside the last minute, and with an overlap down the left, Connor Jones put in a kick which was swept up by Batley.
Batley held on for a sensational win which sends them into the Million Pound Game next weekend when they will be massive underdogs against the Leigh Centurions. Batley led from the fifth minute, and put in a tremendous and unexpected performance to extend and thendefend that lead, holding on in the dying seconds as Rovers lost their composure in their panic to grab the win. This was a sensational win for Batley, and a desperate disappointment for Featherstone and their fans.
Featherstone Rovers: Hall (T, 4G), Briscoe (T), Leilua, Broadbent, Lineham, Ford, Jacks, Kopczak, Wildie, Springer, Sene-Lefeo, Hardcastle (2T), Moors. Subs: Jones (T), Lockwood, Eseh, Cuthbertson.
Batley Bulldogs: Hooley (T), Morton, Buchanan, Hodson, Campbell (T), White, Gilmore (6G), Gledhill, Blake, Brown, Manning (T), Walshaw (T), Reilly. Subs: Meadows (T), Leak, Ward, Flynn.
Score Progression: 0-2, 0-6, 0-8, 0-12, 0-14, 4-14, 6-14, 6-18, 6-20 : HT :10-20, 12-20, 12-24, 12-26, 16-26, 18-26, 18-30, 18-32, 22-32, 26-32, 28-32 : FT.
Lead Exchanges: Batley.
Referee: Robert Hicks.