Trip to Toulouse will be a serious test of character

Matt Diskin
Matt Diskin
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WE’RE HERE to work, not for a holiday.

That’s boss Matt Diskin’s warning to the Batley Bulldogs players ahead of his first game in charge.

Bulldogs will kick off the Kingstone Press Championship season away to promoted Toulouse Olympique today (2.30pm here, 3.30pm local time) and Diskin reckons it is a test of character as much as playing ability.

The former Leeds Rhinos and Bradford Bulls player has spent his entire career in full-time environments and admitted there are new challenges to working at semi-professional level.

“It’s a really tough start,” Diskin conceded.

“We’re going into it very confident. I think if we perform how we’ve practiced and played in the friendly games we will be okay.

“The interesting dilemma for us is seeing how these part-time lads handle the trip away.

“We are trying to keep them focused and make sure they don’t think it’s a jolly boys’ outing.

“That’s the unknown variable for us at the moment, it’s the biggest fear I’ve got as a coach going into this first game.

“Regarding the players’ ability, I am more than confident in that, but how they handle the circumstances and obstacles in the way will be an interesting test of character for a few of them.”

Bulldogs won their three trial games, against Dewsbury Rams, Keighley Cougars and Castleford Tigers, but Diskin insisted today is a new ball game.

“It was good, but let’s not read too much into pre-season friendlies,” the 35-year-old warned. “They are not great markers, historically, of how teams are going to do.

“But it is good to go into this season with some momentum and confidence, particularly with new systems and structures.

“We are gradually getting there, but we won’t see the best out of the team until mid- to the end of the season when those systems become ingrained in them.

“But we are quietly confident and looking forward to the first outing.”

Batley were the country’s top part-time team last year, finishing a shock third in the Championship.

Expectation levels have been raised, but Diskin stressed he is taking a long-term view.

“The finish last year was out of the blue,” he said. “A lot of teams under-performed and Batley over-performed. My task as a coach is to make sure we are competing year-in and year-out for the top-four.

“Hopefully we make it again. There are some very good teams: Featherstone have recruited well and I don’t think Halifax will have an off year like they did last year.

“The unfortunate situation for Bradford will potentially take them out of the reckoning, but London are looking fantastic, Hull KR are in there and Toulouse are a threat.

“It is the strongest I’ve seen this division. It is very competitive and it’s going to be a really open contest for the top-four.”

On a personal level, Diskin is loving his new role.

He said: “I am enjoying everything about it – the responsibility and the interaction with my coaching staff and players.

“I really feel I am where I need to be at the moment for my development and I think it’s a fantastic club to be part of.”