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Match Report: Batley Bulldogs 8-14 Sheffield Eagles

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Kingstone Press Cider Championship, Stadium, 20 June 2013

A frustrating night for the Bulldogs saw them once again fail to get the better of league champions Sheffield Eagles at the Stadium as Mark Aston's side ground out a crucial victory to open up a five-point gap on their opponents. It was a torrid evening for John Kear and his charges against a side they seem to perpetually struggle to overcome, but in many respects the hosts were their own worst enemies - particularly in a second-half knock-onathon when they continually (and frustratingly) turned over the ball early in the tackle count far too often. On a positive note, the Bulldogs defended soundly for much of the game, but there were crucial lapses that led to all three Eagles tries. By contrast, Sheffield were solid in defence but crucially took their chances when they arose, allowing them to close out a critical win.

The Eagles started strongly, despite facing up the slope, and they opened the scoring as early as the second minute when Dominic Brambani's hoisted kick to the corner was contested by Gareth Potts and Menzie Yere and as the ball bounced loose, Michael Knowles was quickest to react, gathering to touchdown following confirmation from the video referee. Brambani's conversion was wide, but the try was a pre-cursor to the Eagles dominating the first quarter of the game. However, the home defence held firm and on 20 minutes, the Bulldogs hit back with a try of real quality - Ben Black and John Davies' slick interplay allowed Black the opportunity to dive in to score, ably converted by Gareth Moore to edge the hosts 6-4 in front.

That lead was short-lived however; on 24 minutes, Potts confidently fielded a 40/20 attempt by Brambani, but as he brought the ball out under the sticks in an attempt to evade the Sheffield chase, the lurking Pat Walker stole the ball from Potts and touched down for the softest of tries. Brambani added the extras and the Eagles had regained the lead at 10-6. Things almost got worse for the Bulldogs on 34 minutes when Tom Armstrong slid in looking set to score through momentum until Ayden Faal's excellent tackle stopped the Eagles centre getting the ball over the line to at least leave the hosts in with some semblance of a comeback after the interval.


In truth, the second-half was dismal viewing for the Bulldogs faithful. The tone was set in the first set when Liam Walmsley coughed up the ball in the face of a fierce Alex Szostak tackle as the hosts enjoyed plenty of possession, but rarely failed to complete their sets as unforced errors littered their display after the break. On 49 minutes, Duane Straugheir was tackled close to the line but was then inexplicably tackled over the try-line by Miles Greenwood and Alex Rowe, allowing the second-rower the opportunity to just plonk the ball down over the line to score an easy try. Fortunately for the hosts, the try remained unconverted.

Byron Smith and George Flanagan were both held up short as the Bulldogs persisted with their attempts to dart over the line from close range to the frustration of the home support, and the hosts' questionable handling in the tackle made for an exasperating second-half. On 69 minutes, Brambani was caught offside and the Bulldogs opted to take the two on offer, courtesy of Gareth Moore, reducing the arrears to one score at 14-8. Inevitably, Sheffield sought out a drop-goal opportunity to kill off the game which arrived on 74 minutes - Walker's kick seemed to go through the posts, but referee Leatherbarrow thought not in controversial fashion. However, the Eagles need not have fretted as the Bulldogs failed to exert the necessary pressure in the final five minutes to snatch what would have been an improbable and undeserved draw.

In conclusion, a game which will not go down as a classic and once again exposed a distinct lack of ingenuity going forward by the Bulldogs which will need to be urgently addressed if they are to secure a place in the Northern Rail Cup Final at Leigh next Thursday.

BATLEY BULLDOGS: 1 Greenwood, 2 Potts, 3 Walton, 20 Faal, 21 G. Johnson, 6 Black, 7 Moore, 8 Smith, 9 Mennell, 26 Fleming, 17 Walmsley, 16 Davies, 13 Lindsay. Interchange: 14 Flanagan, 19 Rowe, 27 J. Johnson, 30 Fairbank.

T: Black

G: Moore 2

SHEFFIELD EAGLES: 1 Laulu-Togagae, 2 Turner, 3 Yere, 4 Armstrong, 5 Taulapapa, 6 Walker, 7 Brambani, 12 Green, 9 Henderson, 10 Stringer, 16 Straugheir, 11 Knowles, 13 Hirst. Interchange: 14 Davey, 15 Szostak, 17 Higgins, 21 Garside.

T: Knowles, Walker, Straugheir

G: Brambani

SCORING SEQUENCE: 0-4, 6-4, 6-10, HT, 6-14, 8-14

REFEREE: C Leatherbarrow

MAN OF THE MATCH: Michael Knowles (Sheffield Eagles) - consistent as ever.

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