Fifth-placed Batley Bulldogs pulled off a stunning golden point upset to reach their first Championship Grand Final by winning 21-20 at league leaders Featherstone Rovers
Batley seemed out of it when they trailed 18-0 after half an hour of the qualifying semi-final at Big Fellas Stadium.
But a try on the stroke of half-time turned the tide and they dominated the second period, eventually levelling through Gareth Moore’s penalty from half-way with three minutes left.
That sent the tie into sudden-death extra-time and after Liam Finn had twice failed to hit the target for Rovers and Bulldogs’ one-point specialist Ben Black had also missed, George Flanagan struck a brilliantly-taken winner in the 86th minute.
With much less big-game experience than four-time finalists Featherstone, Batley let nerves affect them early on and didn’t get going until Rovers had built a three-try lead.
Alex Rowe’s converted touchdown on the final play of the first half gave Batley hope and they pressed solidly after the break, but didn’t get over the line until 15 minutes from the end. It looked like too little too late when Gareth Potts nipped over from Byron Smith’s offload, but Moore and John Davies linked to send Greg Johnson in with eight left.
Moore converted both tries and landed the equalising penalty and Batley could have won it in normal tiime when Black ran a power play and found Liam Walmsley in support, but Will Sharp made a magnificent try-saving tackle.
The semi-final was familiar territory for Rovers and – playing downhill – they looked like running away with it as they notched three tries in the opening half an hour.
Finn put Greg Worthington in for the opening score and on seven minutes a Finn kick caused chaos in Batley’s left-side defence and Sharp and Vince Mellars kept the ball alive, allowing Ian Hardman to twist over.
Finn converted and was again involved – along with Lamont Bryan and Andy Kain – in the build up to Hardman’s second on the half-hour. The No 7 added the extras from wide out, booted a penalty and landed another kick on 54 minutes to make it to make it 20-6.
Batley deserved their win, but it was tough on Featherstone who were the best team in the Kingstone Press Championship over the course of the regular season and finished 13 points clear of Bulldogs.
The penalty count was a factor in Bulldogs’ fightback. It was 5-3 in their favour in the first half, but a 6-1 count against Rovers after half-time meant Batley built up unstoppable momentum going down the slope.
Featherstone Rovers: Hardman, Sharp, Mellars, Worthington, Saxton, Kain, Finn, Crossley, Kaye, James, Dale, Lockwood, Bussey. Subs (all used): Barlow, Hepworth, Bryan, Ellis.
Batley Bulldogs: Greenwood, Potts, Walton, Bretherton, Johnson, Black, Moore, Smith, Mennell, Mullally, Fairbank, Davies, Lindsay. Subs (all used): Flanagan, Hirst, Rowe, Walmsley.
Referee: C Leatherbarrow (St Helens).