Giants will face steep challenge at Batley – McGillvary

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THERE is a knowing smile from Jermaine McGillvary with the very first mention of Mount Pleasant’s famous sloping pitch.

While most Super League players have heard plenty about the notoriously steep gradient at Batley Bulldogs’ ground, the majority of them have never actually experienced just what it is like to play on.

But McGillvary, the powerful Huddersfield Giants winger who heads there tomorrow in the Challenge Cup fourth round, knows only too well about all its strange idiosyncrasies.

He may be pushing for an England World Cup place now having scored nine tries already this term, but four years ago McGillvary was just a mere rookie in Huddersfield’s ranks thankful of an unexpected chance to play some football at Championship club Batley.

It proved a masterstroke. He proved prolific for their Kirklees neighbours in a season-long loan, garnered much-needed first-team experience and showed all the early signs of the robust running game and quality finishing that has since become his trademark.

Huddersfield-born McGillvary was such an instant hit he made the 2009 Championship Team of the Year and the following season, after a shorter loan spell at Barrow Raiders, eventually made his Giants debut against Bradford Bulls.

He has not looked back since but will always fondly recollect that seminal campaign with the Gallant Youths.

Speaking to the Yorkshire Post, McGillvary said: “I loved my time there.

“Batley helped me to be the player I am now and I owe a lot of thanks to the staff and owners for taking me when I was virtually unknown.

“I’d never really even played academy at Huddersfield but Batley took a big gamble on me and it paid off.

“I got in that team of the year, finished top try-scorer and also managed five in one game against Whitehaven which I think is still a joint-club record.

“I’ve a lot of old friends there still. Danny Maun – who was my centre partner – is in his last season and I’m still good friends with him while there’s George Flanagan, Ash Lindsay, Johnny Campbell and a load of others.

“It’s a great club and it’s going to be tough playing up that hill.”

Of course, in essence, “that hill” is just another patch of grass but its unusual topography is almost the stuff of legend.

Super League club London Broncos nearly came unstuck on it in the Challenge Cup last April before eventually progressing 22-16 to the quarter-finals while Huddersfield themselves were pushed hard 28-18 at this stage in 2011.

When asked if part-timers Batley routinely talked about it as a tactical weapon, McGillvary explained: “Definitely. We’d always want to go uphill first.

“If we could keep a team to within 10 points at half-time we always knew we could come down the hill second half, kick them to death, chase hard and then just roll them down it.

“I know for a fact if Batley win the toss they’ll be going uphill first on Sunday.

“Honestly, it is just special. There’s no other pitch like that in Britain literally going up a big slope like that.

“It takes a lot out of your legs especially when the ground is boggy as well.

“Hopefully the weather will be good and less of a strain on us as they do use it to their advantage.

“We can’t take any risks like taking a weakened team or thinking it’s going to be easy just because it’s a Championship side as it is going to be a really hard fixture.”

England Knights winger McGillvary, 24, was rested for that game two years ago but will be desperate to feature tomorrow and renew acquaintances.

Obviously, his former Bulldogs coach Karl Harrison has since left to join Halifax meaning John Kear - a Challenge Cup legend after guiding both Sheffield Eagles and Hull FC to shock final victories – is now in his second season at Mount Pleasant.

He has Batley playing some good football; they are unbeaten in seven games and have secured eight wins so far with just one loss leaving them second only to Halifax in the Championship table.

Along the way, Kear has also utilised current Huddersfield first-team players Anthony Mullally and Jacob Fairbank on dual-registration continuing the link between the West Yorkshire clubs which saw McGillvary flourish previously

He added: “They nearly beat us two years ago at this stage so they’ll be no pushovers. We’ve got to go there and take it as another Super League game.

“The fans are always good there. It’s a small stadium but Batley always come in numbers and when they get singing it can be a bit intimidating for the opposition.

“With us so-called ‘big boys’ coming to town now it will definitely be the case on Sunday and I reckon it’ll be a good game.”

For all Huddersfield are flying themselves tucked in just behind Wigan Warriors at the top of Super League, Kear, the experienced former England coach, will no doubt have highlighted their recent defensive frailties to his own playing staff.

Paul Anderson’s side beat Hull KR on Sunday but shipped 30 points in the 50-30 win, a week after leaking 24 points while defeating bottom club Castleford Tigers.

However, Batley have not defeated Huddersfield in the Challenge Cup for more than a century, their last win being in 1901 which, coincidentally, was the last time they lifted the trophy having also been the inaugural victors in 1897.

Anderson has named a strong squad, scrum-half Luke Robinson and loose forward Dale Ferguson the only notable omissions, but NRL signing Ukuma Ta’ai is included for the first time since March and young prop Nathan Mason could debut.

dave.craven@ypn.co.uk