Batley Bulldogs head coach Craig Lingard is confident his club can continue their habit of beating the odds when the new Betfred Championship season kicks off this weekend.
Lingard led the Bulldogs within 80 minutes of an improbable Super League place last year after a stunning 32-28 win over Featherstone Rovers in their play-off semi-final at Post Office Road.
And despite the usual exodus of big names and one of the smallest budgets in the division, the long-serving Lingard expects another assault on the upper reaches to start with their first game at London Broncos on Sunday.
“Externally the expectations are the same as usual,” Lingard told the PA news agency. “The bookies have written us off and nobody really expects us to be anywhere near the top of the table again.
“Our budget is reduced compared to last year but we’ve got players who have played in a Grand Final and they will have the belief and desire to want to experience that again.”
The looming IMG-led shake-up of the sport has convinced a number of Batley’s Championship rivals that now is the time to push towards securing a place in the top-flight.
As well as title favourites Featherstone, still smarting from their shock loss in September, relegated Toulouse and a resurgent Bradford Bulls will be joined by newly-promoted Keighley in what promises to be a hugely competitive second-tier campaign.
In stark contrast, Batley saw the departure of a number of players including full-back Luke Hooley to Leeds Rhinos, and their biggest move during the close season was to announce admission prices would be pegged back to £10 per adult in recognition of the cost of living crisis.
Lingard, starting his fourth season as coach having previously made over 200 appearances as a player, says nothing will change at a club that is stitched into the town’s fabric as firmly as its old textile mills and the Fox’s Biscuits factory.
Batley were one of the original members of the Northern Football Union in 1895 and went on to win three Challenge Cups around the turn of the 20th century as well as their solitary league title in 1924.
If you're coming to Batley, you're not coming for the money. You're coming because you want to try to achieve something— Batley coach Craig Lingard
“There may be some clubs who feel they have to speculate to accumulate, but for us at Batley, much as it is frustrating for me as a coach trying to bring players in, it is all about being financially sustainable,” added Lingard.
“Everybody who signs for Batley knows they are going to be paid on time, they know they are not going to be owed any money at all, and they know they will not have to chase anybody.
“If you’re coming to Batley, you’re not coming for the money. You’re coming because you want to try to achieve something.
“We build our success on being honest and hard-working, so anybody who wants to play here has to drop into that group. The odds are always against us, but hopefully we have got that blend right again this year.”