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The camaraderie almost seems greater playing for a semi-pro team like Batley than at Super League. It's just a bunch of my mates who are playing for each other.
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Of the 34 players set to be involved in Sunday's Northern Rail Cup Final, none will have had a more unusual preparation than Batley stand-off Paul Handforth.
Amongst other duties, the former Super League professional will have spent the week chasing cows around a field in his job on a farm in the West Yorkshire village of East Ardsley.
Handforth, now a part-time player with the Bulldogs, took on the job to pay the bills just over a year ago and some of the tasks he is charged with are far from glamorous.
"Sometimes we have to round the cows up, muck them out and feed them up and when they are ready to kill we have to chase them around the bloody field," explains Handforth.
"We've been out there for hours sometimes. A few have tried to charge at me with their head down, but none of them have got me yet," he adds with a laugh.
Handforth sought full-time work after he was released from Castleford at the end of the 2006 season. He initially joined the family business in the building trade, but as the recession hit he was forced to quit and he started work on a family friend's farm.
It all seems a far cry from when Handforth launched his Super League career at Wakefield a decade ago. He was an apprentice together with Gareth Ellis, the current England back-row forward who is now earning big money Down Under as an NRL star with Wests Tigers.
Yet despite their careers heading in different directions the Batley playmaker does not begrudge Ellis his success.
"Probably ability-wise there were other people ahead of him when we were apprentices, but I don't think anyone had a better attitude (than Gareth), Handforth recalls. "When some of us were just chilling out Gareth was in the gym doing extra work."
Handforth himself was a Super League regular with the Wildcats, but left the club in 2004 and spent a couple of seasons at Castleford before he was forced to seek pastures new.
The Ireland international has since had an itinerant career playing for Featherstone Rovers and Doncaster. However, off-field problems at the Keepmoat Stadium forced Handforth to make a decision on his future.
"Doncaster were in financial trouble and couldn't pay the players' wages and I had a couple of options," he adds. "When I spoke to Batley and met Karl (Harrison, the Batley coach) he saw something in me straight away and I was sure we would get on great."
Since joining the Bulldogs at the back end of last season Handforth, now aged 28, has proved an inspirational figure at stand-off.
After helping save them from relegation last season, this term the club hold a solid mid-table position in the Co-operative Championship, but it has been their impressive sequence of results in the Northern Rail Cup which has caught the eye.
Batley opened their campaign with a thrilling 30-30 draw against Widnes Vikings, the defending champions, and three successive wins against lower league opposition saw them qualify top of their pool.
The Yorkshire outfit then overcame Sheffield 26-16 at Mount Pleasant in the last eight before inflicting a shock 25-6 win on championship title contenders Leigh Centurions to reach their first final for 58 years.
Handforth is happy to accept that life at Batley is very different to his time in Super League and adds: "We are under a lot more financial restraint at Batley.
"When you are at Castleford or Wakefield you have better facilities, and when we train at Batley's ground I know the groundsman isn't very happy about it. We only train three nights a week and this is after the lads have been working all week."
Yet the wily No.6 is adamant he garners more satisfaction playing for Batley than at any other time in his career.
"The camaraderie almost seems greater playing for a semi-pro team like Batley than at Super League," he explains. "It's just a bunch of my mates who are playing for each other."
In fact, Handforth believes Batley, who go into the game as firm underdogs against the defending champions Widnes Vikings, will have to draw on this spirit and togetherness if they are to prosper at Bloomfield Road.
"We'll have to turn up and play really well from one to 17," he adds. "Everyone is going to have to be pulling in the right direction. The semi-final against Leigh showed that everyone is on song and people are doing that extra little bit to help their mate. We are going to have to be like that because we are playing a very good side."
Yet does Handforth, whose father Tony played hooker for Bradford Northern, have any regrets about no longer featuring in Super League?
"You can't have any regrets you've just got to move on," he reasons. "Life is a book and you write your own story."
A story which he hopes will see Batley Bulldogs triumph over the Widnes Vikings on Sunday night. And then on Monday it will be back to the cows.
|Friday 7th March|
|20:00||Huddersfield vs Leeds|
|20:00||Hull vs Bradford|
|20:00||St Helens vs Hull K R|
|Sunday 9th March|
|15:00||London Broncos vs Warrington|
|15:00||Wakefield vs Catalan Dragons|
|15:30||Castleford vs Wigan|
|Friday 14th March|
|20:00||Leeds vs Widnes|
|20:00||Wigan vs Hull K R|
|20:00||Salford vs Warrington|
|20:00||St Helens vs Catalan Dragons|
|Thursday 6th March|
|Widnes 32 - 18 Salford|
|Sunday 2nd March|
|Warrington 18 - 16 Hull|
|Bradford 25 - 12 London Broncos|
|Wigan 46 - 24 Wakefield|
|Friday 28th February|
|Hull K R 10 - 30 Castleford|
|Widnes 22 - 20 Huddersfield|
|Catalan Dragons 12 - 40 Leeds|
|Thursday 27th February|
|Salford 0 - 38 St Helens|
|Sunday 23rd February|
|Castleford 32 - 6 Catalan Dragons|
|Huddersfield 24 - 24 Hull K R|
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