1895 Cup Final: Halifax Panthers hold off dramatic Batley Bulldogs rally to claim thrilling Wembley win
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In an ending fitting for a prestigious showpiece occasion, the Bulldogs, having got to within six points thanks to a Dale Morton second half try, miraculously kept the ball alive 30 seconds after the final hooter had gone, allowing Elliot Kear in for a dramatic try.
However, Luke Hooley could not make the conversion to take the contest to golden point extra time, ensuring a Fax win at Wembley for the first time since their 1987 Challenge Cup success against St Helens.
There was no telling for this drama, however, after Brandon Moore had given the Panthers an early lead, which was extended by the boot of Louis Jouffret, the player of the match, on four occasions. Batley, at 12-0 down, just did not seem to have any answers, until Morton gave them a sniff.
The 12-10 defeat, as it turned out to be, was cruel on Batley - their first ever visit to this famous stadium.
It was a day of dramatic endings. There was one in the Men’s Challenge Cup Final, with Leigh Leopards securing a 17-16 golden point win over Hull KR, which caused the 1895 Cup final to be delayed by 30 minutes.
A first final in 35 years for Fax. A first Wembley appearance for Batley in 143 years. They just had to wait that little bit longer.
When they did get going there was drama with barely two minutes on the clock, with Moore powering over from close range on the last tackle. Jouffret added the two points from the conversion as the Fax fans behind those sticks began to reminisce of those good old days in the late 1980s.
The last time these two sides met, the Bulldogs romped to a one-sided, and brutal, 42-0 thrashing of the Panthers last month at the Fox’s Biscuits Stadium. There was no chance of that happening in this contest, the sides’ fourth meeting of 2023, at a fourth different venue, after Moore’s early intervention.
The other two games were close affairs, Fax winning by four points at The Shay in March and Batley triumphing 20-12 in the Summer Bash at York. Who knows, there could be a fifth meeting if their paths cross in the play-offs.
Craig Lingard had promised it would be another tight match and that there would be no repeat of the July performance. Maybe that was because his side had failed to win in the Championship since that game, losing three successive games to Toulouse, Featherstone Rovers and Bradford Bulls. He made just the one change to the side which suffered that latest defeat, with Hooley coming in for George Senior.
Fax, on the other hand, bounced into Wembley with a spring in their step after their thrilling 25-22 win over runaway league leaders Fev. Simon Grix was forced into a couple of changes with Ben Crooks cup tied and Dan Fleming ill, allowing hometown boys Zak McComb and Jacob Fairbank to come in.
And Grix’s men dominated for large periods of the first half, although they had nothing else to show for their performance aside from a Jouffret penalty.
Batley tried their best to come back into it - James Meadows was key, playing intricate passes, left and right, but the Fax defence remained firm.
Lingard sent his men out early in the second half but another two Jouffret penalties extended their lead to two scores at 12-0.
What did Batley have left? As we all know, you cannot write the Bulldogs off. Into the last 15 minutes, they kept pushing to force their way back into the contest which was a nervy, attritional, yet unmissable affair, and they got their reward when Morton squeezed through down the right hand side.
Hooley made the conversion. 12-6. There was still time. Unbelievably, there was still time after the hooter had sounded. Batley kept the ball alive. For an age it seemed. 16 passes. Desperation from both sides, as the Bulldogs, starting with Alistair Leak, went left, then right, the left again, with Hooley providing the crucial pass to Kear. Fax fans could not believe what they were seeing. Neither did the Bulldogs’ supporters as Kear touched down in the far corner. Bedlam. Euphoria.
Batley were within a kick away from taking the game to golden point extra time. But it was a tough one for Hooley, allowed to play by his parent club Leeds Rhinos. Agonisingly for Batley it drifted wide. Ecstasy for Fax, as they held on to win 12-10.
Halifax: Pickersgill, Saltonstall, McComb, Maizen, Walmsley, Woodburn-Hall, Jouffret, Fairbank, Gee, Kavanagh, Murray, Moore, Calcott
Interchanges: O’Brien, Tangata, Lannon, Larroyer
Penalties: Jouffret (2)
Batley: Hooley, Morton, Hodson, Kear, McGowan, Meadows, Woods, Gledhill, White, Brown, Manning, Buchanan, Reilly
Interchanges: Leak, Flynn, Ward, Kibula