IT MAY have been a dream season already for Batley Bulldogs but, as they prepare to face Super League opposition in the Qualifiers, captain Keegan Hirst says there is no reason why it cannot continue further.
The semi-professional Championship club, who stunned full-time operators Bradford Bulls and Sheffield Eagles to reach the competition’s top four, are now eagerly awaiting trips to Leeds Rhinos and Hull KR in the weeks ahead.
Given veteran coach John Kear’s penchant for causing Cup shocks, it would be no surprise if Batley do cause further upsets in the two months ahead.
“Keary will relish it,” confirmed Hirst to The Yorkshire Post. “He’s good for a team talk is John. He won’t be happy for us just to make the numbers up; he’ll be wanting us to have a go.
“He’s on holiday at the minute, but he’ll have been plotting bringing down a couple of Super League teams.”
Batley, despite a playing budget vastly inferior to many of their rivals, secured third place after Sunday’s 62-24 win at Swinton Lions and the Qualifiers fixtures were subsequently announced on Wednesday.
Hirst, 28, said: “We had a few beers Sunday night, got together and celebrated a good season.
“It was a weight off, to be honest, as after we’d lost (34-6 at home to Featherstone) the other week, we were really deflated.
“That London Broncos game (31-20 win) became a pressure match and then we knew we needed a win really against Swinton to make sure. But then it was a case of job done and we can look forward to the Qualifiers.”
They start out at Hull KR a week on Sunday knowing their top-flight hosts will be wary having already been knocked out of the Challenge Cup by part-time Oldham earlier this year.
“They have had a taste of Championship rugby haven’t they and come unstuck,” added Hirst, who hails from Batley but started out in Bradford Bulls’ academy side alongside current England star Sam Burgess.
“I’m sure they’ll be doing their video and having a look at us.
“They have a couple of injuries and I suppose we don’t fear anyone as long as we turn up and do what we’ve done all year.
“We’ll have a good go and should be a good atmosphere.
“They have a good pack, but we’ve prided ourselves on having one of the best packs in our league this year so it will be a good test that against Super League opposition.”
Hirst concedes the trip to Leeds Rhinos is the one most of his colleagues will be looking forward to – “Headingley is a bit special, isn’t it?” – while they will host the two other Super League sides Huddersfield Giants and Salford Red Devils.
Speculation continues that this will be the last of the joiner’s six seasons at Mount Pleasant, split only by his 2014 dalliance with Featherstone, having initially joined from their local rivals Dewsbury Rams.
It is understood he will be stepping up to Super League on a permanent basis by following Kear to Wakefield Trinity where his current coach will become director of rugby in 2017.
Hirst is not to be drawn on those rumours but, on Kear, said: “He’s got Batley to a Grand Final, in these Middle Eights and, I know we flirted with relegation last year, but I think he turned the club’s head to want to do more than just survive.
“John’s instilled that belief we can be a really good Championship team and especially with this money now received, in a good position to really kick on and be a force.”