BATLEY played at Leigh Sports Village five times last season so they won’t need the sat nav when they set off from Mount Pleasant on Sunday to kick off the Kingstone Press Championship season against Leigh.
It’s the stand-out fixture of the opening weekend and was earmarked for TV before Premier Sports pulled the plug on their Championship coverage recently.
Batley and Leigh have fought out some epic encounters in recent years - none more thrilling than in the play-off last year when a Golden Point win saw John Kear’s side end Centurions’ season.
They went on to beat Featherstone before losing to Sheffield in the Grand Final at the Sports Village.
“We know what it’s like to go to the LSV after five visits last year to face Leigh, Swinton and Sheffield in the Grand Final,” said Batley coach Kear. “It’s a great stadium with a great surface.
“There have been some very close games between us in recent years, even down to a Golden Point.
“I am pleased we are opening with a fixture like this because the players don’t think they can ease their way into a season. They will be playing one of the top teams away from home and I’m looking to see how they respond to that challenge.”
Paul Rowley has built a formidable squad for 2014 and two of those new arrivals are of particular interest to Kear who as a former Wakefield coach worked with them day in, day out.
“Leigh have a great team and I have been very impressed with their recruitment during the close season.
“I am a big admirer of Liam Kay who I know well from my days at Wakefield along with Oliver Wilkes. They have added some good players to an already high quality rugby league squad. I am expecting them to feature prominently towards the end of the season.”
Centurions boss Paul Rowley regards Kear and Batley highly and is predicting the Bulldogs to be one of what he calls “the usual suspects” along with Featherstone, Sheffield and Halifax. It’s a tag Kear is happy to have.
“I’m glad people have got their eye on us,” he said. “I think we have earned a great deal of respect - not just in the two years I’ve been there but before that with people like Karl Harrison as coach.
“We have grown into a very competitive team. We have enjoyed a Northern Rail Cup victory in that time and reached a Grand Final.
“Ten of that Grand Final team have left and we take that as a compliment because two went to Super League and the rest moved for considerable pay increases to other Championship clubs.
“The challenge I have is to integrate those new players into a team. Preseason has been hampered by this foul weather but we are very happy with what’s been happening.
“We have got better each preseason game that we’ve played and were impressive against Keighley on Sunday where we performed very well and came away with a 30-0 victory.”
Despite losing the nucleus of his 2013 team, Kear is looking forward to seeing his new recruits adapt including former Leigh hooker Anthony Nicolson.
“The new players have impressed me,” said Kear. “There is a good work ethic and that’s the Batley culture. We roll our sleeves up, we don’t mind a bit of adversity and we get stuck in. The players have taken that on board.
“The one I would pick out as one to watch is Sam Scott who joined us from York City Knights. He really has blossomed. I am expecting big things of him as I am with all the new signings.
“Anthony Nicholson tweaked his hamstring against Dewsbury in a friendly on Boxing Day so he hasn’t had the most fluid and productive of preseasons.
“He played against Keighley and it was good to have him back on board. He will have to get used to our surface at Batley rather than the luxury of the Leigh Sports Village.”