Kear and Sharp target Mount Pleasant tie to end losing runs

Batley v Featherstone.
Batley v Featherstone.
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IT is a safe assumption that both Batley Bulldogs and Featherstone Rovers realised they could be entering the fourth round of Qualifiers fixtures with each still awaiting a first win.

That is in no way due to a lack of ambition or belief but a simple reality that, as the only two part-time teams in the eight-club competition, and the lowest-ranked as well, they might find life difficult.

Featherstone, for instance, started out against last season’s treble-winners Leeds Rhinos, who were playing Johnathan Thurston’s North Queensland Cowboys only a matter of months ago.

Then came Huddersfield Giants, another star-studded Super League side, before Leigh Centurions, clearly the best team in their Championship for the last three seasons.

Featherstone conceded 62 points in each of the first two fixtures before, highlighting their potential, giving Leigh a real run for their money before losing 30-18.

Likewise, Batley were at top-flight Hull KR – Challenge Cup finalists 12 months previously – before travelling to London Broncos, who finished above them in the Championship, and then hosting Huddersfield.

Granted, there was no excuses for the embarrassing 76-16 capitulation at Ealing but they responded too – in the second half, at least – against the Giants when out-scoring their illustrious rivals five tries to two in a 58-28 defeat.

However, both sides are awaiting their first points of this Middle Eights and, though each already knows they won’t be playing in Super League in 2017, it does not mean there is little to play for.

One of them will get off the mark tomorrow when Batley host their West Yorkshire neighbours at Mount Pleasant and, in all likelihood, the victor will clinch seventh spot.

“It is a big opportunity for us and for Featherstone as well,” said Bulldogs coach John Kear, who now just has four games left with the Gallant Youths before moving to Wakefield Trinty.

“They will be targeting this as the game they are most likely to win and we will be doing similar.

“We played pretty well in the final 40 of our last match versus Huddersfield.

“It was pleasing to see us represent ourselves properly in that second half, because in the previous two and a half games we let ourselves down.

“It (the Qualifiers) is a step up in intensity; the Super League teams are playing for their jobs and Leigh and London are playing for promotion.

“Hopefully the players will be better for it individually and Batley as a club will be better if they make the Middle Eights next year.”

Featherstone, perhaps, will be more confident going into tomorrow’s game having won 34-6 at the same venue less than two months ago, a brilliant victory that helped shape their surge into the top-four.

Furthermore, they really challenged Leigh last time out and coach Jon Sharp admitted: “We laid a benchmark with the performance.

“I thought we were unlucky not to get something out of the Leigh game.

“We have got to take the same attitude and resolve into this one,” he said.

“It is going to be tight and Batley is a tough place to go and win. Not many teams have done that this year, but fortunately we have.”

Sharp added: “We will be going there with confidence, but we know we have to be at our best to beat them.

“Nobody wants to go through the Middle Eights without winning a game.

“Both clubs will see it as an opportunity and probably both targeted it when the fixtures came out.”

Afterwards, Batley, who finished third above Featherstone, will prepare for their glamour tie – a trip to Headingley next Friday to face Leeds.

Whether they have a win under their belt by then or not, that is, for sure, a match that will live long in the memory for all concerned with the Bulldogs club.