Championship play-offs 2021: Craig Lingard wants to see more Batley Bulldogs spirit against Toulouse Olympique
Places in the Million Pound Game are up for grabs. Watch Toulouse Olympique against Batley Bulldogs followed by Featherstone Rovers versus Halifax Panthers in the Championship play-off semi-finals live on Sky Sports Mix from 3pm on Saturday
By Marc Bazeley
Last Updated: 02/10/21 3:36pm
Nothing emphasises the rugby league history at Batley Bulldogs quite like the honours board mounted prominently on the wall next to the players' tunnel at their Fox's Biscuit Stadium home.
A scan down the list shows how that goes right back to the formative years of the Northern Union being winners of the first two Challenge Cups in 1897 and 1898, and again in 1901 - not to mention having lifted the Yorkshire Cup 10 years prior rugby's great schism of 1895.
Those major honours, including the league title triumph of 1924, are now far in the past, but the Bulldogs remain a thriving Championship club and a man who has played a big part in their more recent history, first with 10 years as a player and now as head coach, in Craig Lingard is in no doubt it is a special team to be involved with.
"The club knows what they are," Lingard said. "They're honest, humble, hard-working and everybody's involvement matters whether it's the person selling the golden gamble tickets, the person on the turnstiles or in the car park, the directors, the players or the coaching staff.
"It's a real family club, it's close-knit and there are not many players who come there and leave with a sour taste in their mouth.
"You can see that from the ex-players do we had when we played Dewsbury and there were about 70 there ranging from the 1950s and 1960s through to the modern era.
"It's a really good club, they look after the players and they're a club that whatever the players are promised they'll deliver, and it's got a really good vibe about the place. It's just an enjoyable place to be, and we build everything on being honest, humble and hard-working."
The club knows what they are. They're honest, humble, hard-working and everybody's involvement matters.
Craig Lingard on what makes Batley special
Lingard, who made such an impact at full-back for Batley between 1998 and 2008 that he had the end terrace at their ground named after him, returned to Mount Pleasant as head coach ahead of the 2020 season which was ultimately curtailed by the Covid-19 pandemic, but in 2021 has guided them to a fourth-place finish and a spot in the Championship semi-finals.
Last Saturday's 23-10 win at home to Bradford Bulls in the elimination play-off set up a trip to unbeaten table-toppers Toulouse Olympique, which is live on Sky Sports, and was followed by Lingard being named as Championship coach of the year.
The 43-year-old was honoured to receive the accolade but put it and the Bulldogs' success this year down to the unrelenting efforts of the squad as the part-timers aim to secure a place in the Million Pound game against the winners of the other semi between Featherstone Rovers and Halifax Panthers.
"You can boil it down to a lot of things, but primarily it comes down to hard work," Lingard said. "Unless the guys are willing to put that effort in and work for each other, it makes no difference no matter how many skilful players you've got.
"I think you've seen in the previous two games we've played against Halifax and Bradford, the hard work and the dedication and the desperation the guys have had to defend their own goal-line.
"It's stood out above many other games this season, but we've had that throughout the entire season defensively and I think you're rewarded defensively for what you do offensively.
"We have won games in different fashions, but it's all come from hard work and that's off the field as well as on it."
Semi-final opponents Toulouse are favourites to be promoted to Super League for 2022 and have already claimed the League Leaders' Shield. It will be the first time another team has visited Stade Ernest-Wallon this year too, with the French side playing all of their games up to this point in England.
The need to self-isolate on returning from France means Batley will be without Dale Morton, Ben Kaye and Tom Lillycrop for the trip as they have been unable to secure time off work, but Adam Gledhill and on-loan Leeds Rhinos youngster Oli Burton are back in contention.
Lingard has seen Toulouse evolve into the force they are now from their return to the British league system in 2016 when he was head coach at Keighley Cougars and while he believes they are capable of being a Super League team, he hopes Batley can delay those ambitions for one more year.
"They've grown, they're a force to be reckoned with now and they're a Super League team in all but status," Lingard said.
"We played the last game over in Toulouse before lockdown and the facilities they've got over there and the ground they're playing in are phenomenal. They're the grounds you want to be playing in, coaching in and watching rugby league as well.
From where they've come to where they are now, long-term I think they deserve to be in Super League - but hopefully it's not this year.
Batley's Craig Lingard on semi-final opponents Toulouse
"From where they've come to where they are now, long-term I think they deserve to be in Super League - but hopefully it's not this year."
Championship play-off semi-finals
3.15pm UK time: Toulouse Olympique vs Batley Bulldogs (Stade Ernest-Wallon, Sky Sports Mix from 3pm)
5.30pm: Featherstone Rovers vs Halifax Panthers (The Millennium Stadium, Sky Sports Mix from 5.15pm)