Feb 8 2010 By Dave Bettley
Shane Grady of the Widnes Vikings
Batley Bulldogs 30 Widnes Vikings 30
CREDIT the Vikings for their comeback, their battling qualities and Shane Grady's nerve, but for close to an hour it looked as if Batley were heading for maximum points in this Northern Rail Cup group game.
It was only when Widnes discovered a spark to truly ignite their performance that they finished much the stronger of the two sides and played with an urgency that had only emerged in patches during the opening 55 minutes.
Goalkicking has been the subject of much debate among the supporters, and when Grady stepped up in the 78th minute to take the conversion that would ultimately earn the Vikings a draw, there must have been enormous pressure on the young centre.
He had already seen three of five kicks miss the target but planted this one high between the posts to seal a cracking fightback.
Widnes gave debuts to their new captures Shaun Ainscough on the wing, and forwards Ben Davies and Liam Farrell on the bench. All three showed plenty of promise. Ainscough's two tries only served to underline his reputation as an outstanding finisher.
Playing up the hill in the first half, Batley were quicker out of the traps and deservedly took the lead when Lee Greenwood won the race to a kick ahead to touch down in the corner. Gareth Moore goaled from wide out, and ended up with five successful conversions from five attempts.
He did, however, miss a relatively straightforward penalty in the second half which proved crucial.
Widnes were quickly on terms when Lee Doran went over for a try improved by Grady, but for the rest of the half they were just about hanging on to Batley's shirt tails.
The Bulldogs were fortunate with their second try when it appeared that Johnny Campbell had been tackled before stretching out to score. But there was nothing wrong with either of their next two as James Martin powered through a big hole, and then in the try of the half, winger Lee Greenwood finished off a sweeping move in the corner.
In reply Widnes posted an almost identical brace of tries from the outstanding Ben Kavanagh, each time fed down the right centre channel by James Webster. Grady converted the second just as the hooter sounded to keep the gap down to 24-16 at half-time.
Poor defence allowed the Bulldogs to stretch their advantage early in the second half. Greenwood fielded a kick and then evaded the chasers before heading downfield. He then kicked ahead and with only Webster covering back, Campbell won the race to touch down. The conversion made the score 30-16 and the Vikings were staring defeat in the face.
They needed some inspiration and Anthony Thackeray's well-placed kick and Ainscough's anticipation and speed to reach it provided the impetus with a try in the corner.
Widnes then had Thackeray sin-binned, but emerged from the ten-minute spell just one score behind after Ainscough had raced in for his second off a sublime pass from the returning Toa Kohe-Love.
With time running out, Thackeray was again the key figure, this time slicing his way through a tiring defence after dummying to the men on his outside. Grady obliged with the conversion to make it 30-all.
There was still time for Widnes fans to look on anxiously as Batley mounted one last attack and set up a drop goal attempt that fortunately hit one of their own players – ensuring the game finished with honours even.
Batley: Campbell; Preece, Barlow, Maun, Greenwood; Handforth, Moore; Smith, Lythe, Heseth, Buttery, Potter, Lindsay. Subs: Gallagher, Toothill, Martin, Walton.
Widnes: Ford; Ainscough, Kohe-Love, Grady, Gardner; Thackeray, Webster; Pickersgill, Smith, Gannon, Doran, Allen, Gerrard. Subs: Kavanagh, Houghton, Farrell, Davies.
Referee: Gareth Hewer.