1895 Cup final: Batley Bulldogs and Halifax Panthers set to meet in a truly momentous occasion at Wembley
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The first women’s Challenge Cup final to be staged at Wembley.
The first Halifax team to return to Wembley in 35 years.
The first Batley side to ever step foot inside the iconic stadium in their 143-year history.
It promises to be an emotional, enthralling day, and the West Yorkshire derby to conclude proceedings between the Panthers and the Bulldogs in the 1895 Cup final has all the ingredients for a classic.
Three times they have met already during 2023. There could be a fifth meeting should their paths cross again in the play-offs.
Batley have the upper-hand in this season’s head-to-head. Two games to Halifax’s one. 78-32 on aggregate, although that is heavily assisted by the Bulldogs’ sensational 42-0 thrashing of Fax last month.
Craig Lingard’s men, however, enter their momentous day out at Wembley on the back of two consecutive league defeats, while the Panthers have an almighty spring in their step after that stunning victory over runaway league leaders Featherstone Rovers at The Shay on Sunday. A result, which, ultimately, and yet very head-scratchingly, cost Sean Long his job at the Millennium Stadium.
Rugby league, eh? As Mark Moxon would tell Lingard after the recent goings-on at Castleford Tigers: “Just when you think you’ve got rugby league sussed, it comes and takes your legs straight from underneath you!”
It certainly has been an engrossing few months for me in my role as the West Yorkshire Weeklies rugby league correspondent, covering Halifax, Batley and Fev in the Championship, as well as following Dewsbury Rams on their way to the League 1 title. Non-stop action on the pitch. A flurry of activity off it.
My journey with Fax commenced with a special eight-page souvenir supplement for the Courier marking 150 years of the sport in Halifax, where new chairman, and boyhood fan, Dave Grayson, promised to lay the foundations “for another 150 years”.
I don’t think even he’d envisage welcoming the world club champions, St Helens, to The Shay in the Challenge Cup, and a first Wembley appearance since 1988 all within the first few months of his tenure. Don’t rule out a push for promotion to Super League via a play-off campaign as well.
My rugby league journey with the Bulldogs, unbeknownst to me at the time, started at Leigh Sports Village last October for the 2022 Championship Grand Final. Defeated, yes. Battered and bruised, of course not.
They have come back stronger in 2023, their recent wobble - against Toulouse, Rovers and Bradford - aside. A seven-game winning streak, from April to late June, propelled them to second. They too have ambitions of yet another Grand Final.
And so these two historic rugby league clubs meet in a prestigious final at Wembley. Batley’s ferocious forwards against Fax’s flourishing backs.
A momentous occasion for all involved. A new generation of Halifax fans having the opportunity to watch their heroes at the famous venue in their 150th year; that thrilling Challenge Cup final victory of 1987 against the mighty St Helens is still talked about in the town today.
For Batley, fans, young and old, will walk down Wembley Way for the very first time ever in the club’s 143-year history.
All that’s left to say is: enjoy it, and may the best team win.