Going into last weekend’s Championship semi-finals everyone expected Leigh and Featherstone to ease into the Million Pound Game at the expense of York and Batley.
In fact, all season we’ve expected Rovers to meet the Centurions in the Championship Grand Final with a place in Super League up for grabs.
However, an amazing performance from the Bulldogs at Featherstone stunned the star-studded Featherstone side seeing Batley move on to the Million Pound Game at Leigh Sports Village against Adrian Lam’s Leigh side.
The win saw Featherstone boss Brian McDermott resign yesterday, but just how did Batley mastermind this shock win and take a step towards Super League?
Well, we’ve spoken to star fullback Luke Hooley about the famous win, and he revealed how the Bulldogs prepared for the fixture full of confidence after some brilliant performances against the Rovers earlier this season.
“We prepared for them just like any other team we’ve played this year,” Hooley said, “We knew we could go there and do the job.
“I don’t think anyone apart from ourselves gave us a chance going into that game but the belief and confidence we have we knew we could cause the upset.”
Hooley also gave some insight into what was going through his mind when the Bulldogs were 14-0 up at the start of the game, as Hooley scored a superb try early on outfoxing opposite number Craig Hall.
“When we were 14-0 ahead it was just about staying calm and don’t change what’s working for us,” Hooley explained.
“I think there is a natural tendency for an underdog team in that position to start to become defensive and to hold on to what is already there.
“We just had to take the game in stages and not dwell on the fact we were ahead by that score, we knew Featherstone would come back, they are a very good team.”
However, things nearly unravelled for the Bulldogs when Featherstone battled back in the game with a try from Luke Briscoe making 32-28 with some time left for the Rovers to pinch it.
Batley held on but Hooley and his teammate were certainly “nervous” at this point: “At 32-28 was a nervous few minutes, but it was just about every player on that field doing what we can to keep them from scoring and we did that,” he added.
Batley are now 80 minutes away from Super League and have one last game this season. However, it could be Hooley’s final game for the club with the fullback widely expected to join Leeds next year.
Can they take that last step and back up their shock win against Featherstone last week with the biggest shock we’ve seen since Sheffield beat Wigan at Wembley?
Star player Hooley certainly things they can but has given credit to Leigh bu describing them as the best side in the league “by far”.
He continued: “We’re confident. I think anyone we’ve played this year we’ve been confident, but Leigh have been by far the best team in the division this year and deserve to be where they are, it’s going to be a tough game but it all comes down to 80 minutes.”
Hooley is already proud that they have defied the odds and proved the doubters wrong describing it as an “unbelievable achievement”:
“At the start of the season our goal was to match what we did last year or even go one better! We reached the semi-finals last season but I don’t think anyone expected us to back it up this year but to get to the grand final is an unbelievable achievement!”
Win, lose or draw it could be his last in a Batley shirt with, as mentioned, a move to Leeds Rhinos widely expected to be confirmed after the game against the Centurions.
Should Batley win, it will be interesting to see if Hooley could pivot his future back to Batley, however it does seem that a move to Headingley is all but done.
“My focus is all on this final game,” said Hooley. “These are the games you play rugby league for so it doesn’t really make much sense for me to work as hard as I have, along with all my teammates, all season to then on the week of a game that defines the season to be talking about next season and my future.
“I have always tried throughout my career to take one game, one training session at a time and not get too far ahead of myself because that brings complacency and a lack of concentration.
“Right now I need to be more concentrated than I have ever been because I have played for Batley for three seasons now and this upcoming weekend is the biggest game I have ever played in.
“I think there is always speculation when you are a young player and you feel like you are playing well, but for me to get noticed as much as I have this season playing for a team most people probably wouldn’t recognise as being one of the main teams in the league just shows how well we have done.
“Sure I take all the glory out of the back, but really I am just a luxury player who supports where I can and to have the opportunities I have had this season you need to be behind a pack that gives you opprtunities.
“Because we have been on the front foot so much this season it has provided me with more space and I think if you give space to most outside backs in this competition they are going to look good.
“Against Leigh I know I won’t be given as much space so I think this is perhaps a test of my ability, in being able to play well and affect a game where I may not get as many chances as I have been in recent weeks.
“These are the games I want to be playing in though and I want to test myself against the best, and Leigh are certainly the best team in this league so I’m hoping that we can all go out there at the weekend and play at the top of our game and cause a major upset.”