Toulouse Olympique v Batley Bulldogs: Underdogs set sights on causing semi-final upset

BATLEY Bulldogs coach Craig Lingard says his part-time players head to Toulouse Olympique today “fully expecting to win” their Championship semi-final and reach the Million Pound Game.

The West Yorkshire club are massive underdogs given their ambitious French opponents are a full-time outfit, lifted the League Leaders’ Shield without losing a game and have their sights firmly set on Super League.

Moreover, Toulouse are playing on home soil for the first time in 574 days and have switched to the Stade Ernest Wallon, home of the city’s legendary union club.

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They have been unable to play any home games this term due to quarantine restrictions preventing part-time clubs from travelling to France, an issue which has caused issues for Batley.

But the Bulldogs, who finished fifth and eliminated Bradford Bulls last week, are undaunted.

Lingard, assistant coach when Batley reached the 2013 Championship Grand Final, said: “(Forward) James Brown said at the start of the season going back to 2016 – when we finished third and got into the Qualifiers/Middle Eights – that he felt the squad we had this year could replicate that.

“We’ve a really good, hard-working group, so the 2013 team, the 2016 team and this one now, everything that you have there is hard work and togetherness.

“They are really humble about what they have achieved so far this year but also quite aware that we’ve not got here by luck.

Batley Bulldogs head coach Craig Lingard. Picture by Ed Sykes/SWpix.com

“We just want to finish this season on a high. We’re not wanting to finish this weekend: we are taking this game as our final.

“We’ll be going out all guns blazing, fully expecting to win this game with a good display.”

Lingard, who was named Championship Coach of the Year this week, conceded it is frustrating that a number of his players will be unable to travel.

“This week we are without Dale Morton, Ben Kaye and Tom Lillycrop and we’d been waiting on one or two others to get their permission from work to be able to work from home for the five days isolation period,” he explained.

Batley Bulldogs' James Brown. Picture by Ash Allen/SWpix.com

“It is disappointing. These guys have worked hard all season and all those guys mentioned have not just played a bit-part; every one of them has played in excess of 17, 18 and 19 games.

“So they have been a really big part of our squad so to lose them out of the 17 is really disappointing but even more disappointing for them that they don’t get an opportunity to play in a semi-final.”

That said, Lingard remains confident with the squad he has at his disposal that the visitors can still cause a shock.

“Adam Gledhill will probably come back in,” he said.

“He’s missed out due to work recently.

“Oli Burton, the young lad we’ve had in on loan from Leeds who played the previous couple of weeks before, he’ll probably come back into the 17.

“There’s a couple of people who just missed out on the 17 the previous couple of weeks because we’ve been playing okay and they’ll come into the reckoning.

“So we are going over there minus several players but we’re not going to be necessarily weakened by those coming in.”