Championship Preview: Batley Bulldogs

Last Season: 8th

One of the big stories of the second-half of the 2009 season was the resurgence of the Bulldogs under new coach Karl Harrison following the departure of Gary Thornton. Having guided Batley to Championship safety for 5 seasons, a heavy defeat at home to Toulouse in April spelt the end of Thornton’s tenure at the Mount. Harrison, brother of Bulldogs general manager and former player Paul, was brought in on a temporary basis before committing himself to the Batley cause for the remainder of season.

The recovery that took place at Mount Pleasant under the guidance of the former England coach was nothing short of remarkable. Paul Handforth‘s arrival from Doncaster mid-way through the season gave the Bulldogs that extra dimension in attack they’d been lacking and, crucially, took pressure off the shoulders of the relatively inexperienced Paul Mennell. Their partnership developed in to one of the most potent half-back combinations in the division, with the experience and tactical prowess of Handforth complimenting Mennell’s raw hunger and enthusiasm.

The Bulldogs will be without Mennell in 2010 though, the young scrum-half opting for a move to Australia and Queensland Cup outfit Ipswich Jets. His departure is a big blow to Batley, but one that has been cushioned by the arrival of half-backs Kyle Wood and Gareth Moore. Wood will join the club on a season long loan from parent club Huddersfield, after spending last season with Sheffield, while Moore arrives fresh from a spell with York during the second half of last season. Wood, in particular, will be out to impress after initially stating he didn’t want to be loaned out to a lower-league side.

The left-flank partnership of Danny Maun and Jonny Campbell will be hoping to begin 2010 with a bang after bagging a hat-full of tries last season. The experienced Maun seems to get better with age and, with lightning quick wingman Campbell outside him, the former Featherstone and Dewsbury centre will be eager to utilise the offload at every opportunity.

Winger Eddie Kilroy has been brought in from Bradford’s academy along with exciting young prop Sean Hesketh, who showed plenty of promise with some powerhouse displays for York last season. Dave Tootill, Byron Smith and Jon Simpson will, once again, provide the muscle up front with live wire utility man Ash Lindsay bringing tenacious enthusiasm to the Bulldogs’ attack and defence.

The news that Karl Harrison has pledged his future to the club for the season ahead at least has given the loyal band of Batley supporters another reason to feel optimistic about the year ahead. If Harrison can find the right formula at half-back in the absence of Mennell, there’ll be little to halt a Bulldogs charge for the play-offs in 2010.

Prediction: 7th
Key Player: Paul Handforth

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