Dave Craven: Kear faces another rescue act as Bulldogs must battle relegation

Batley Bulldogs coach John Kear.
Batley Bulldogs coach John Kear.
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Having guided Batley Bulldogs to a maiden Championship Grand Final appearance just 11 months ago, John Kear could scarcely have guessed he would now be embroiled in a relegation scrap with the very same club.

Scrub that. He would have barely believed it just a few weeks ago.

Yet that is just where the veteran coach now finds himself after yesterday’s decision by the RFL Operational Rules Tribunal to dock Batley three points for breaching dual-registration rules.

It plummets the West Yorkshire club into the drop zone in the one season no one can truly afford to endure that fate. With the all-dancing re-structure in place for 2015, when Championship sides have the chance to face Super League teams and earn promotion, demotion into Championship One is unthinkable.

But by virtue of this ruling – Batley had fielded Huddersfield Giants’ Jacob Fairbank in the win against Sheffield Eagles last month when ineligible – they are now three points adrift of safety with just three games to go.

They will almost certainly appeal the decision, just as Doncaster – who have suffered the same points deduction for fielding Hull FC’s Ben Crooks – indicated they would do moments after the ruling was made public yesterday.

At least Batley know that, in Kear, they have an expert in the art of inspiring crucial victories when everything looks lost.

Of course, the veteran coach, when taking over at all-but-doomed Wakefield Trinity with six Super League games remaining in 2006, memorably oversaw four victories to bring them back from the brink.

This current quest starts tomorrow against, of all opponents, Heavy Woollen rivals Dewsbury Rams at Mount Pleasant. There cannot have been a more crucial derby between the sides for some years.

They will then host relegated Swinton Lions before heading to Doncaster, now clinging onto fourth spot, in their final outing.

Even if they win them all they still require Whitehaven to lose tomorrow at Kear’s old club Sheffield Eagles and also fail to secure a losing bonus point. That is because the Cumbrians are unlikely to slip up either at home to relegated Rochdale or at struggling Swinton.

One thing remains certain, however. There can be no repeat of the shenanigans that have occurred of late with this dual-registration shambles.

Batley and Doncaster were found guilty of breaching Operational Rule B3.17.

That states dual-registration players who have a salary cap value of £20,000 or more must have played in at least three league fixtures for the Championship club that campaign before the end-of-season registration deadline in order to play in games which fall after the deadline, whether they be regular season or play-off games.

Put like that, it seems simple enough, and the RFL argue clubs were well-versed in the detail of what had to be done when registering players ahead of the deadline. But speaking to different people involved at various clubs, it appears the process and administration of it all, is far from that, and instead deeply problematic leading to much of the initial confusion.

No one purposely set out to try and cheat in these instances. Some simple honest errors were made but reasons can be cited.