Webster relieved to start Qualifiers with win

YOU could sense immediately how important this win was for Hull KR.

Chris Clarkson of Hull KR is held by Batley.

As much as they were always huge favourites to overcome Batley Bulldogs in their opening Qualifiers game, the East Yorkshire club are seen by many as the Super League team most in danger of suffering relegation.

It was, therefore, crucial they overcame the Championship part-timers and quickly gained some confidence, and points, ahead of Friday’s far more testing proposition at champions Leeds Rhinos.

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With centre Thomas Minns scoring a hat-trick inside just 36 minutes to go 36-6 ahead, and the hosts breaking Batley’s line on regular occasions, the result was rarely in doubt.

Nevertheless, interim head coach James Webster – who hailed two-try second-row James Greenwood as “the find of the year” – was delighted to get the result.

“It’s good to get a win and score 58 points is always pleasing,” he said, all the more so given George Lawler and Robbie Mulhern both pulled out on the morning of the game due to a sickness bug.

“It was a little disappointing to concede 18 but in saying that we had five or six guys who’d not played for three weeks so, to play in that heat, and come through unscathed was good.

“We knew Batley would always come here and play; they’re a good side who have been big and strong all year.

“They can hurt you; Championship sides are easily as physically strong as Super League at times and dangerous near the tryline.

“We saw that in the Challenge Cup against Oldham and it was disappointing to go behind today as we did but pleasing to come back in that fashion.”

Batley hooker Alistair Leak crossed after just three minutes but the visitors did not cross again until the final play of the half, continually struggling especially against the pace and zeal of three-quarters like Minns and superb Australian winger Ken Sio.

Webster added: “Credit must go to (assistant) Dave Hodgson for that as he’s done a lot of video work this week in getting our outside backs working in that fashion.

“People like Iain Thornley, Sio, Ben Cockayne and Josh Mantellato got us on the front foot early and that helped as we knew if the game stagnated into a one-off-the-ruck style it would suit Batley.

“I was happy for Minnsy, too. He’s getting some game-time now and he does have some potential.

“But we have a different animal next week with Leeds at Headingley. I went to watch them at Featherstone on Saturday.

“People looked at the side there and said it should be challenging for the Super League title not the Qualifiers. But we’ll look forward to it.”

As Rovers do that, the harsh realities of life in the Qualifiers struck immediately for Batley.

John Kear’s side have enjoyed a fairytale season finishing as high as third in the Championship and earning their place in the Middle Eights against Super League sides.

But, for all the part-timers wanted to enjoy the experience, it was hard to do anything of the sort as they were put to the sword all too easily.

Hull KR were too powerful, too fast and simply too good as they quickly got their latest bid for Super League survival up and running.

Batley missed the leadership of Keegan Hirst, their captain who was stood down for this game by Kear after a breach of discipline, while Shaun Ainscough limped off injured on the half-hour.

That saw Sam Smeaton, the ex-Featherstone Rovers centre signed from Halifax, make his debut but he was powerless to prevent the slide especially as half-back Walker also departed injured in the first half.

Ex-England hooker Shaun Lunt broke from deep to set up a try for Iain Thornley soon after Leak’s effort to ease any potential KR nerves, Minns getting his first in the next set as they again struck from their own half.

After Batley winger Wayne Reittie almost touched down Dom Brambani’s chip, Minns got his second as the 21-year-old twisted out of some lame defence before Rovers scored the try of the half via Matty Marsh after another long-range attack.

Greenwood stepped through some feeble defence for their fifth try, Josh Mantellato’s fifth kick making it 30-6.

Minns completed his hat-trick before Batley finally escaped for substitute Tom Lillycrop to barge over from close range seconds before the interval.

They then had their best spell of the game at the start of the second period but sustained pressure amounted to nothing.

Instead, Cockayne latched onto Mantellato’s grubber as Rovers countered to bring up 40 in the 50th minute and Greenwood quickly added his second to add on the misery.

Maurice Blair got in on the act, too, before – after Batley kept Rovers scoreless for almost 20 minutes – Mantellato got his own try and ninth conversion.

Batley kept battling and were rewarded with a try from powerful prop Alex Rowe with 30 seconds remaining, Brambani slotting his second kick.

Hull KR: Cockayne; Sio, Minns, Thornley, Mantellato; Marsh, Kelly; A Walker, Lunt, Tilse, Blair, Greenwood, Clarkson. Substitutes: Larroyer, Allgood, Donaldson, Thompson.

Batley Bulldogs: Scott; Reittie, Squires, Ulugia, Ainscough; P Walker, Brambani; Rowe, Leak, Gledhill, Day, Bretherton, Chandler. Substitutes: Davey, Lillycrop, Brown, Smeaton.

Referee: G Hewer (Whitehaven).