BATLEY BULLDOGS let a Wembley date slip through their fingers when they were beaten 18-2 in yesterday’s 1895 Cup semi-final at Sheffield Eagles.
Bulldogs defended well – superbly at times – under heavy pressure, but had very little field position and created only one worthwhile opportunity.
Given the prize at stake and the wet conditions, it was never going to be a thrilling exhibition of flowing rugby but Batley made enough errors to lose two or three games.
For the most part they weren’t forced mistakes or from any attempt to spin the ball out wide, simply fumbles playing the ball or dropped passes.
On the very rare occasions they did manage to get through a set they showed flashes of enterprise, but Eagles’ defence was never really threatened.
In the first half both teams struggled to hang on to the ball; in the second – when the rain eased – Batley constantly turned possession over trying to get away from their line and that meant they never gave themselves a chance of winning the tie.
It took a huge tackling effort to restrict Eagles to only three tries, but the hosts were the better team and deserved their return to Wembley 21 years after their famous Challenge Cup win over Wigan Warriors.
Batley have never been there, despite winning the Challenge Cup three times and they might not get as close again.
They were in touch as late as the 66th minute, when Eagles scored their second try, but never looked like pulling the game from the fire. Sheffield rubbed salt in with another touchdown in the final couple of minutes, but the 16-point margin didn’t reflect their dominance in terms of territory and possession.
Inside the opening five minutes, Sam Smeaton got an off-load away to Wayne Reittie, but Ryan Millar tackled him into touch before he could get the ball down.
That proved to be the visitors’ only real opportunity of the first entire game.
Sheffield led from the 27th minute, through a try which was created by one former Batley player and scored by another.
Pat Walker slid a grubber behind Batley’s defence and Joel Farrell ran through to touch down.
Walker added the extras, but Bulldogs pulled two points back through a Louis Jouffret penalty goal.
Batley’s error count mounted after the interval and they knocked-on three times near their own line in the first 15 minutes of the second half.
Farrell had a touchdown ruled out for a double movement, but Bulldogs finally cracked 14 minutes from time when Walker and Aaron Brown combined to send Jacob Ogden over.
There was no way back from Batley, though they did at least manage to get inside Eagles’ half a couple of times and the hosts sealed their place in the final when Oliver Davies rampaged over and Walker landed his third successful kick.
Sheffield Eagles: Guzdek, Millar, Ogden, Hellewell, Blackmore, Walker, Thackeray, Pick, G Burns, Knowles, Farrell, Davies, A Brown. Subs Makelim, B Broadbent, Mason, P Burns.
Batley Bulldogs: Scott, Reittie, Smeaton, J Broadbent, Campbell, Jouffret, Brambani, Gledhill, Leak, Dickinson, Downs, Manning, Brearley. Subs Bienek, J Brown, Everett, Wood.
Referee: Gareth Hewer (Whitehaven).