Batley Bulldogs produced a magnificent effort as they went mighty close to causing a major upset against Bradford Bulls in the Kingstone Press Championship.
Batley led the full-time Bulls 19-14 going into a dramatic final 10 minutes.
Cain Southernwood, who was one of several Bulldogs players to have terrific games, had chance to give his side a crucial seven point lead but was narrowly wide with a tricky penalty goal attempt from 35 metres out.
Bradford launched an attack up the Mount Pleasant slope but Batley’s defence looked to be holding out.
The Bulls moved play left on the last tackle and winger Danny Williams kicked ahead, won the race and gathered the ball to dive over in the corner.
The large Bradford support, behind the posts, held their breath as Ryan Shaw stood up to curl over the touchline conversion and edge the Bulls 20-19 ahead.
In the final minute, right winger Chris Ulugia was on the end of a passing move as he dived in at the corner and Shaw landed another superb touchline goal with the last kick of the game as Bradford sealed a somewhat flattering 26-19 victory.
It was harsh on Batley, who produced arguably their best performance of the season, which almost saw them claim a famous win.
The Bulldogs defence was superb in the first half, restricting Bradford to a 14-6 lead and it provided the platform for a storming second half fightback.
Bradford started brightly and Bulldogs fans must have feared the worst when stand-off Lee Gaskell showed a terrific turn of pace to burst through from inside his own 30.
Gaskell raced downfield and slipped a lovely ball inside for Shaw to race between the posts and the centre added the goal to put the Bulls 6-0 ahead after just four minutes.
Batley fought back and moved wide, where Alistair Leak kicked left. Centre Shaun Squires showed neat footwork to knock the ball forward and won the race to touchdown. Southernwood converted from wide out to level.
Shaw landed a penalty to edge Bradford back in front as the frenetic opening quarter continued.
Batley’s superb defence denied Bradford on numerous occasions, including one Bulls attack when Tom Olbison was held up over the try line.
Bradford finally broke Batley’s resolve in the final minute of the first half when Shaw kicked through and the Bulldogs defence were unable to gather the ball, which allowed full-back Jake Mullaney to pounce for the try.
Shaw kicked the conversion from wide out with the last kick of the half as the Bulls led 14-6 at half-time.
Batley’s response after the break was superb.
Wayne Reittie gathered a Bradford kick and raced away before being hauled down.
Batley kicked left, where Squires was taken out off the ball and from the resulting penalty, Joe Chandler drove for the line and managed to get the ball down despite a crowd of players.
Southernwood converted to reduce the deficit to 14-12.
Batley continued their momentum and from the next attack, Southernwood fed impressive scrum half Anthony Nicholson, who switched play back inside for Keegan Hirst to drive for the line.
The powerful prop carried several Bulls defenders over the line to touch down and Southernwood converted.
Johnny Campbell produced a magnificent try saving tackle to take Ulugia into touch short of the line and when Batley moved to the other end of the field and Southernwood slotted over a drop goal, Bulldogs supporters were daring to dream of victory.
Southernwood’s missed penalty attempt in the 69th minute sparked a dramatic finale as Williams and Ulugia scored late tries to spare the Bulls blushes and deny Batley victory.
Batley Bulldogs: Grayston; Reittie, Ainscough, Squires, Campbell; Southernwood, Nicholson; Hirst, Leak, Rowe, Bretherton, Scott, Brown. Subs: Chandler, Gledhill, Hesketh, Mitchell.
Bradford Bulls: Mullaney; Williams, Shaw, Henry, Ulugia; Gaskell, Seijka; Clough, O’Brien, Swallow, Walshaw, Olbison, Pitts. Subs: Fleming, Tahroui, Lauaki, Conroy.
Referee: Geirge Stokes.