Going for the treble as Kear’s former charges stand in way

John Kear
John Kear
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HIS name is synonymous with Challenge Cup glory but, for John Kear, many of the feelings associated with that famous tournament apply to any knockout competition.

This is why the man who memorably led Sheffield Eagles to that biggest of all Wembley shocks in 1998 and lifted the Challenge Cup once more against the odds with Hull FC seven years later is similarly excited by the prospect of tackling a relatively non-descript Workington Town tomorrow.

Victory for his Batley Bulldogs side at Mount Pleasant would see them proceed into the Northern Rail Cup semi-finals and move to within just 80 minutes of another showpiece appearance.

Halifax’s Shay Stadium, the venue for that event on July 20, may not have the allure of the Twin Towers or Cardiff’s imposing Millennium Stadium, but, for Kear, it is just as enticing.

“It is and it’s bound to be,” enthused Kear, pictured.

“For part-time players, this is our Challenge Cup. People are realistic; part-time lads aren’t ever going to win the Challenge Cup but the Northern Rail Cup is for teams in our division and we think we’re one of the best of those.”

His Batley side are in good fettle, sitting third in the Championship just three points adrift of leaders Sheffield, the side now coached by his Eagles talisman that day when they stunned mighty Wigan at Wembley – Mark Aston.

Batley have strung together four consecutive wins since suffering a blip with back-to-back losses against Leigh Centurions and Featherstone Rovers.

With holders Halifax and favourites Featherstone already out of the Northern Rail Cup, the path is clearing somewhat for whoever progresses tomorrow.

However, Kear warned: “The fact Halifax are out has acted as a little marker to put us on our best behaviour.

“Dewsbury were tremendous when beating them but beforehand everyone had already put Halifax in the next round.

“That shows the danger of complacency and we won’t be taking Workington lightly.”

Strangely, there will be plenty of memories from Hull’s 2005 Challenge Cup final win over Leeds Rhinos stirred up when Workington arrive in West Yorkshire.

This is because no fewer than four of Kear’s Airlie Birds squad that season are now actually featuring with the Cumbrian part-timers.

Former Great Britain prop Jamie Thackray and fellow front-row Ewan Dowes played in the final at Cardiff while full-back Shaun Briscoe – currently on dual-registration with Workington from Widnes Vikings but unavailable tomorrow – missed out due to appendicitis.

Utility man Peter Lupton failed to make the cut for Hull but Workington winger Mark Calderwood was in the beaten Leeds side that day and played under Kear at England A level.

All these players could, arguably, still be playing in Super League which underlines the threat Workington possess.

“That is also indicative of the high standard of the Championship,” added Kear.

“More and more people are acknowledging that and Super League clubs, too, due to the financial aspect and the drying up of the Australian reservoir are looking down here.

“As well as those ex-Hull lads at Workington they have a hooker, Graeme Mattinson, that I really rate very highly and a young half-back, Callum Phillips, who is proving very exciting and making people sit up.”

Promoted Workington also showed their prowess when they inflicted on Leigh just their fourth league loss of the year last weekend, a win which edged them into the top eight.

When Batley lifted the Northern Rail Cup under Karl Harrison three years ago, it was the first time the Gallant Youths had won any trophy of note since 1924.

To do it twice in just four seasons would prove that was no fluke and underline the continued strides Kear has made since taking over 18 months ago.

However, he makes no excuses for believing his side can actually complete a treble of finishing top, winning the Grand Final and tasting success in this competition, too.

“There’s no point hiding away from it,” said the 58-year-old former Wakefield Trinity chief, whose Batley side won 30-16 at Workington in March.

“That’s what we are aiming for and every week that is why we try to apply ourselves in the way we do in order to achieve as much success as possible.”

Batley’s hopes of progression tomorrow have been boosted given both Ayden Faal and Alex Bretherton came through fitness tests at training on Thursday night.

Gareth Potts is also available again as is Castleford Tigers prop Dan Fleming, meaning only long-term injury victim Mark Applegarth is absent.