Batley Bulldogs 30 Halifax Panthers 18: Bulldogs come storming back to win a Championship classic
The second-tier competition has earned a reputation in recent years for producing some enthralling fare and Batley Bulldogs and Halifax combined to produce more of that on the opening day of the 2022 campaign.
Halifax, who were 16-0 up inside just 25 minutes, will wonder how they ended up on the losing side but they only had themselves to blame with some late ill-discipline.
And Batley, playing down the famous Mount Pleasant slope in the second period, fought back impressively.
When Halifax full-back Joe Martin was sin-binned for tackling a home player without the ball in the 63rd minute, Josh Hodson managed to get winger Perry Whiteley over for a debut try and Tom Gilmore levelled at 18-18 from the touchline.
At that point, Batley had been down to 12 men themselves but James Brown returned from his yellow card - for a swinging arm - to help take charge for the hosts.
It was the veteran forward’s great run that got them on the attack again in the 71st minute, leading to Joe Keyes - who Halifax signed from Super League Hull KR in the autumn - felling Hodson with a high tackle.
He became the second Halifax player to be sin-binned and, though Gilmore missed the penalty from 35m out, Craig Lingard’s side soon capitalised in a dramatic finish.
With Adam Tangata failing to play the ball correctly, Brown made another strong carry for Alistair Leak to set up Michael Ward for the decisive try in the 75th minute.
There was even time for Brown to dummy through and set up Leak for Batley’s fifth try of the afternoon.
The only downside for Lingard was seeing Leak suffer a head knock in the final seconds with the hooker, Hodson and Jimmy Meadows all failing HIAs which leaves them automatically out of next week’s game at Newcastle Thunder.
Tangata had got Fax up and running after just seven minutes, barging over from dummy-half after Ben Kavanagh had stolen possession from Batley as they came away from their own line.
Keyes slotted the first of his four goals and added his second soon after when acting-half Brandon Moore also proved too strong from close range.
In contrast, although Simon Grix’s side lost the ball in the restart set, they comfortably defended their own line, something they would do on five occasions before Batley finally got over in the final seconds of the half.
Before then, the visitors had seen Brad Knowles, the forward signed from Sheffield Eagles, carried off just moments after coming on for his debut.
He suffered a serious hamtring injury but it did not slow his side’s progress; they added their third try once in the same set after he had departed the field.
Granted, there was a touch of fortune to this one as Louis Jouffret’s grubber ricocheted wickedly off a Batley defender and landed perfectly for Joe Arundel, the former Hull FC and Castleford centre who joined from Wakefield Trinity in the autumn. Keyes could not improve the score but, given the manner in which their opponents were initially self-destructing, it did not matter.
The perfect example of this was when, after ‘Fax had defended their line once more, Arundel was pulled up for offside to give Batley chance to finally apply some sustained pressure.
However, in a moment of madness, from the penalty, Ben White tapped the ball to himself and then kicked into touch. Referee Chris Kendall spotted the bizarre error and rightly handed possession back to the relieved visitors who had been readying themselves for more defensive work.,
Still, Batley did score at last with the final play of the half when Gilmore and George Senior linked for Johnny Campbell, who had to check his run to gather the pass, to impressively finish in the left corner.
With Gilmore’s touchline conversion, suddenly - at 16-6 - the half-time picture was not as worrying for Lingard’s side.
They thought they had added to that when Campbell did brilliantly to claim Gilmore’s hanging kick two minutes into the second period but Kendall ruled a double-movement.
Nevertheless, Batley did get their second try soon after when Gilmore broke and kicked ahead for full-back Luke Hooley to touch down.
Gilmore improved and it was no surprise, at that point, to see Grix introduce Kyle Wood.
Batley messed up the restart but, some poor options from the visitors, saw them reprieved.
The home side had plenty of opportunities themselves, encouraged by some slack Halifax decision-making, but all too often they forced the pass when there was little need.
Keyes slotted a simple penalty after Brown’s yellow card to make it 18-12 - but when the former Swinton Lions forward returned to the field he more than made up for that indiscretion.
Batley Bulldogs: Hooley; Whiteley, Hodson, Senior, Campbell; Meadows, Gilmore; Gledhill, Leak, Brown, Buchanan, Walshaw, White. Substitutes: Blagbrough, Ward, Lillycrop, Collinson.
Halifax Panthers: Martin; Walmsley. McComb, Arundel, Saltsonstall; Jouffret, Keyes; Tangata, Moore, Murray, Kavanagh, Barber, Larroyer. Substitutes: Wood, Gwaze, Knowles, Morris.
Referee: Chris Kendall (Huddersfield)