Batley Bulldogs captain Paul Handforth is bracing himself for battle as the Northern Rail Cup holders prepare to begin their defence of the prized trophy against Leigh Centurions on Sunday February 6.
Victory in the 2010 Northern Rail Cup final at Blackpool earned Batley their first silverware in 86 years and Handforth knows that the tag of ‘defending champions’ places extra pressure on the Bulldogs to repeat last year’s performances in 2011.
“The pressure on us is definitely going to be greater this season,” said Handforth. “We had to wait a long time for a trophy and now that we’re the defending champions, all the other clubs will be going out there extra determined to make sure they beat us.
“We’re marked men so to speak, and we know there’s going to be lots of pressure on us to perform. We know every game is going to be a real battle.
“We’ve got a tough group and there are some really good teams in there. We’ve got Leigh, Hunslet, Gateshead and Halifax in the opening weeks and we know there won’t be an easy game for us. We are confident that we have enough quality to beat any other team in the competition.”
Batley defeated first round opponents Leigh in the semi-final stage last season, before going on to clinch a dramatic 25-24 victory over Widnes Vikings in the final and Handforth is confident that Batley can replicate those kind of performances again in 2011.
“We were lucky in some respects last season,” said Handforth. “We progressed through the stages under the radar, no-one really paid any attention to us until the semi-finals and even then, everybody was writing us off and saying that it would be Leigh who got through to the final.
“We were confident all along that we had the ability to get to the final, it was one of the targets we set at the start of the season and it’s one of the targets we’ve set again this season, along with getting into the Championship play-offs. It’s not going to be an easy task, but it’s one we’re capable of.
“We’ve strengthened the side during the off-season and we’ve brought in some good players. There’s more strength in depth than we’ve had before so if anything, I’d say we’re probably a better side now than we were last season.”
Tickets for the 2011 Northern Rail Cup final at Bloomfield Road, Blackpool, on Sunday July 17 cost from just £12 for adults (£5 concessions) and are available by calling the RFL Ticket Office on 0844 856 11 13 or by visiting www.rugbyleaguetickets.co.uk