Batley Aiming High Again Despite Increased Competition In Betfred Championship

Craig Lingard and Keegan Hirst tell The Sportsman they want another play-off run
12:00, 10 Feb 2023

After making a play-off semi-final in 2021 and reaching the Betfred Championship Grand Final last season, Batley Bulldogs began their 2023 campaign with a 30-20 win away to London Broncos last weekend.

On Sunday they welcome Swinton Lions to Mount Pleasant for the first home game of the season but do so in the knowledge that they carry a target on their backs after their excellent form of the last couple of years.


And head coach Craig Lingard explains to The Sportsman that the improvement expected at clubs such as Bradford Bulls and Widnes Vikings means an even bigger scrap to reach the play-offs this term.

“We know it’s going to be difficult. The challenge for us last year was to try to replicate what we did the year before, which was a semi-final position. Fortunately for us we managed to do that, and even better it and get to the Grand Final,” he says. “So we know that we’re on that pedestal once more and teams are going to prep for us and it’s going to be massively difficult.

“The quality in the Championship has increased enormously this year. I think consistency-wise the teams that have improved their playing profile and their squads means it’s going to be a lot more closely contested this year for the play-off places.”

Skipper Keegan Hirst is in his third spell with the Bulldogs and knows more than most the outstanding strides made at the Mount in recent years despite the relative size of the club compared to others in the second tier.

“Everyone always thinks of Batley as overachieving, which I suppose when you look at budgets is the case,” Hirst tells The Sportsman. “But if you look at what we’ve done over the last 10 years – a couple of Grand Finals and Super 8s, we’re a good, established Championship team – I think our job is to be more consistent with those finishes, getting up there to those semi-finals and Grand Finals more often.

“The big focus for us has been raising the standard, because the quality across the Championship is a lot better. I don’t think there’s going to be a stand-out team as there was last year.”

Hirst believes that the influx of star names such as Luke Gale at Keighley Cougars and Michael Lawrence at Bradford Bulls can help clubs like Batley to make the most of the league’s increased profile.

“I don’t think there are going to be any dead rubbers, everybody can take points off everybody,” he adds. “Batley have also dropped the prices for season tickets and are making it a lot more accessible for people to get in, so I think there’s a real incentive to be able to get down and look at some big names who have signed at Championship clubs.

“People might not have seen players like Luke Gale play before and they’ll be able to come down to the Mount and watch a good calibre of player there.”

Coach Lingard, more than anything, wants his players to continue to be known for their ability to capitalise on even the slightest moment of weakness shown by opposition sides.

“We know that teams are going to be expecting to have a real tough game against us, and whenever you speak to players who have joined from other clubs the message they get is that to beat Batley you have to play for 80 minutes.”

The Mount Pleasant clash with Swinton kicks off at 3pm on Sunday.


*18+ | BeGambleAware | Odds Subject to Change

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