AN OUTSTANDING 32-6 victory at Batley Bulldogs underlined Featherstone Rovers’ status as one of the teams to beat in the Kingstone Press Championship.
Rovers’ magnificent first-half defence, particularly in the face of a Batley onslaught in the opening 10 minutes, set them on course for a third successive win.
Playing down the slope, Bulldogs applied heavy pressure, but – aided by some poor handling from the hosts – Featherstone stood firm and then counter-attacked clinically to take a 14-0 interval lead, which was incredible on the balance of play.
Batley plugged away in the second half, but never looked like getting back into the contest and the final scoreline was a fair reflection of Rovers’ superiority.
Referee Gareth Hewer, who was in charge of last year’s Challenge Cup final at Wembley, was at the centre of attention before the break. After 11 minutes he had awarded five penalties to Batley and sin-binned Rovers’ Michael Knowles for a foul on Dave Scott.
The visitors were placed on a team warning at the end of the first quarter, which Hewer failed to act on following subsequent penalties and the official declined to issue a similar caution to Batley after they were penalised often enough for the first-half count to finish 9-8 in Rovers’ favour. The six second-half penalties were shared.
Keal Carlile, Luke Briscoe, John Davies and Ian Hardman had big games for Rovers, the last scoring both their first-half tries – the first created by Anthony Thackeray and Brad Tagg and the second following a brilliant break by Briscoe – either side of two Knowles penalty goals.
Ash Handley’s try early in the second half – from a pass by Chris Ulugia – and Knowles’ touchline conversion put the result beyond doubt.
It wasn’t how Bulldogs half-back Dominic Brambani would have wanted to mark his 300th career appearance, but he got the home team on the scoreboard with a fine individual finish on 52 minutes, Patch Walker converting.
But Knowles steadied Rovers’ ship with a penalty at the start of the fourth quarter and Briscoe and Carlile added late tries, Knowles converting the final touchdown.
Batley Bulldogs: Scott, Reittie, Smeaton, Hallett, Ainscough, Walker, Brambani, Lillycrop, Leak, Brown, Manning, Bretherton, Day. Subs Davey, Maher, Chandler, Rowe.
Featherstone Rovers: Hardman, Briscoe, Walton, Ulugia, Hadley, Thackeray, Wildie, Bostock, Carlile, Baldwinson, Knowles, Davies, Tagg. Subs Briggs, Hardcastle, Mariano, Moore.
Referee: Gareth Hewer (Whitehaven).