After a sensational Challenge Cup final, the men of the Halifax Panthers and the Batley Bulldogs had something to live up to as they took the field for the final of the AB Sundecks 1895 Trophy on the hallowed Wembley turf.
Halifax won the first meeting between the two sides in March by 20-16, but lost by 20-12 at the summer bash in May before a massive 42-0 win for the Bulldogs on the 9th July. Batley were favourites with the bookies as they are currently fourth in the league table and secure in the play-off positions while Halifax look much more precarious in sixth place.
It promised to be another great game.
With under two minutes on the clock Brandon Moore opened the scoring for the Panthers after Batley had lost the ball on their own twenty. It was all far too easy for Halifax, Louis Jouffret adding the extras for a 6-0 lead.
Halifax were held up over the line twice in one set, but after being awarded a penalty for a high tackle, and then forcing a drop out, they couldn’t get over the line again, the Bulldogs clearing their lines.
Halifax were bossing the game but great last-ditch defence from Batley was keeping them out.
Ben White was held up over the line for Batley on twenty-five as the Bulldogs tried to get on the board but on thirty-one, they were caught offside twenty from their own line and Jouffret kicked the penalty for an 8-0 lead.
Batley finished the half the brighter but were eight behind on the scoreboard.
An ugly tackle by Dale Morton gave Jouffret a penalty attempt from thirty-five metres out and when he hit the target his side had a 10-0 lead with just over twenty-five minutes remaining.
A Batley dropped ball was contested and the referee awarded a penalty for dissent, Jouffret again on target from forty metres for a 12-0 lead, the Bulldogs now needing two converted tries.
On sixty-five the Bulldogs were right back in it after a sensational Josh Hodgson no look flick pass into the hands of Dale Morton who was able to stride over in the right corner and score unopposed. Luke Hooley added the conversion, and the margin was back to just a single converted try.
The Bulldogs were playing with a new confidence, Halifax rattled.
James Woodburn-Hall put a kick out on the full and piled the pressure back on his side. On the offence Batley forced an extra set of six ten from the Halifax line and then received a penalty. Another Halifax error at the end of the next six maintained the pressure and when play broke down to another Batley penalty it seemed that the Halifax defence must buckle.
After the final hooter the ball was kept alive and as it was fed down the line Batley had an overlap with Elliot Kear scoring in the corner for 10-12. Luke Hooley had a kick from the sideline to level the scores and force golden point but he put it just wide of the upright, Halifax holding on for the win by two points in another classic cup final on a day of great finals.
Incredible defence in the closing minutes from Halifax denied Batley until after the final hooter and then the Bulldogs could only score in the corner and give Hooley the most difficult of conversions. The fightback deserved golden point but the nest side over the eighty minutes were undoubtedly Halifax and it is they who picked up the trophy, Jouffret being awarded the Ray French Man of the Match.
Halifax Panthers: Pickersgill, Walmsley, Maizen, McComb, Saltonstall, Jouffret (4G), Woodburn-Hall, Calcott, Moore (T), Murray, Kavanagh, Gee, Fairbank. Subs: O’Brien, Tangata, Lannon, Larroyer. 18th Man: Sutcliffe.
Batley Bulldogs: Hooley (G), Morton (T), Hodson, Kear (T), McGowan, Meadows, Woods, Gledhill, White, Brown, Manning, Buchanan, Reilly. Subs: Leak, Flynn, Ward, Kibula. 18th Man: Senior.
Score Progression: 4-0, 6-0, 8-0 : HT: 10-0, 12-0, 12-4, 12-6, 12-10 :FT.
Lead Exchanges: Halifax.
Referee: Jack Smith.