Underdogs: The beauty of Batley and rugby league

When looking at the pros of relegation from Super League, a visit to Batley has to be up there.

It didn’t even take that last season, as a remarkable season for the Bulldogs saw them finish in the Championship top four and take their place in The Qualifiers, where they took on Leeds, Huddersfield, Salford and Hull KR from the top flight.

In fact, the Red Devils’ won at Mount Pleasant in the final round of the Super 8s to set up their Million Pound Game tussle with Hull KR.

As luck would have it, 2016 was the year that author Tony Hannan was the ultimately fly on the wall in and around the club.

‘Underdogs’, available now, specifically looks at Batley, Keegan Hirst and a Year in the Life of a Rugby League town.

Hannan was given unprecedented access to every square inch of the club. From each punishing training session, changing room huddle, raw action and brutal post-match analysis, to the personal struggles of players and staff both on and off the field.

“They’re everyone’s favourite second team aren’t they?” he said.

“I’ve always wanted to do a book about lower league rugby league. It started with a discussion with (fellow rugby league journalist) Gareth Walker, about how good it would be to give rugby league the ‘Friday Night Lights’ treatment.

“Get behind the scenes, get into the changing rooms, the boardroom, on the bench, training sessions, all that stuff. Travel on the team bus, getting amongst the supporters and everything else other than going on the pitch and play.

“Really to get a feel for what life is like at that level of sport, not just rugby league.”

As well as the rugby league angle, Underdogs also looks at the town of Batley as a whole and, in a year that saw the tragic murder of local MP Jo Cox, a story of northern working-class culture, of community and pride, and a report from the front line of a society trying to find its identity in an ever-changing world.

Hannan added: “Although it’s about Batley, and I expect a lot of readers to be supporters of Batley who want to read about their club, their town and the amazing year last year, it goes beyond that.

“It’s about rugby league itself in a changing global sporting world now where it’s all about money and media pull, and how are clubs like Batley, banging away in the Championship at a lower level on a part-time level, supposed to compete.

“Not only with the big guns in rugby league, like Leeds and Wigan, but the other full-time teams. And also sport in general.

“That’s the rugby league story. How is rugby league going to compete against football, rugby union, tennis etc – it can’t really, it has to find a way.”

WIN: Tony Hannan’s Underdogs is the inspirational true story of a group of part-time rugby league players punching above their weight. We have 15 books to give away. For your chance to win a copy, click here.

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