Featherstone Rovers and Batley Bulldogs go for glory in Championship semi-finals: Halifax Panthers and Toulouse Olympique stand between them and Grand Final
Saturday's Betfred Championship semi-finals will see Featherstone Rovers attempt to avoid an upset as Batley Bulldogs try to create one.
Rovers finished second in the table and are at home to Halifax Panthers (5.30pm) while fourth-placed Bulldogs visit Toulouse Olympique (3.15pm).
Featherstone have lost only once in the league this year, at home to Toulouse.
They won 54-22 when Halifax visited Millennium Stadium, Post Office Road, early last month, after a 16-8 away victory in May.
Though his men will be warm favourites, Rovers coach James Webster is keenly aware of what happened two years ago, when Featherstone reached the Grand Final from fifth on the table, winning away to Leigh Centurions, York City Knights and Toulouse in the process.
“Featherstone probably defied everyone in 2019,” Webster recalled. “Halifax could easily do what Featherstone did in 2019.
“We have got a tough test this week, the Hull KR v Warrington game [when the Robins pulled off a shock win in the Super League play-offs] has been highlighted at our place.”
Webster stressed: “If you put our team up against Halifax’s on paper, it is pretty similar.
“Halifax have been an extremely good side and have gone on a long run of winning games. We have to be at our best to win.”
Rovers ran in 10 tries in last month’s meeting, but with a Grand Final place at stake, Webster expects today’s contest to be more like the one at The Shay.
“I don’t take too much notice of the game we played against them a few weeks ago,” he added.
“I thought some of our tries were scratchy and lucky.
“I don’t think the scoreline reflected parts of that game.
“It is going to be a tough encounter and one that is going to be very, very enjoyable to watch.”
Webster stressed: “Play-off football is different, the energy of the game is different and there is bigger swings of momentum.
“The ball is in play a lot longer and the referees referee the game differently.
“It is just such a different occasion.
“It is one which hopefully will suit us.
“You have got to turn up on the day and get the job done.
“We have given ourselves a chance, but when you go through that Halifax side, there is a lot of experience and some big-game players.
“They are a star-studded team for this division and they are hard to beat.”
By contrast, Batley are underdogs for their semi-final in France.
League leaders Toulouse - who are playing on home soil for the first time this year - won all 14 of their league fixtures, including a 32-12 success at Mount Pleasant in July.
Bulldogs boss Craig Lingard - the newly crowned Championship coach of the year - knows his team have a mountain to climb, but reckons anything is possible in a one-off game.
He said: “It is 80 minutes with 17 blokes against 17 blokes.
“It is going to be a real tough task for us, there are no two ways about that, but we have got nothing to lose and we want our season to continue.”
Lingard said Batley won’t change their approach for today’s tie.
“We are not going to go there and throw it away,” he added.
“A lot of teams play Toulouse and try things they wouldn’t normally do.
“We are going into the semi-final with the intention we are going to win, as we did when we played them at Batley.
“We were winning at one point in that game, but at the end of the day they just had a little too much for us in the second half.
“The last few games they played were all blow-out scores and teams maybe go into games against Toulouse with the impression they are going to lose.
“We are certainly not going to do that. We are going to go out there and give it our best shot and if that is not good enough, then we will wish Toulouse best in the final. But we are going out to win the game, there is no two ways about that.”
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