IT’S felt like a long wait – made even longer by the sudden deluge of snow on Boxing Day that froze out the Halifax clash.

But the Bulls are finally back in business after 106 days chewing over what might have been.

Last season might have represented their highest finish for five years with fifth place in the Championship.

It didn’t feel like that at the time, though, as the immediate play-off exit at Batley meant four successive defeats in the final month.

The campaign went out with a dribble and the hunger to pick things back up again has hung over Odsal since.

Ironically, it was the Bulldogs under the command of Craig Lingard, John Kear’s loyal lieutenant during his stint in charge at Mount Pleasant, who provided the first opposition of 2022.

And Batley again claimed the honours, for what they are worth, with a 28-22 victory played for the most part in heavy rain as the rust was knocked off by both sides.

It was a worthwhile run out after the long break – but Kear will know there is plenty of work to be done before the gloves come off for real at Dewsbury on January 30.

Kear’s initial 25-man squad had been trimmed by three, including the absence of recently-appointed vice captain Jordan Lilley who injured his knee in training.

That meant that Dec Patton, one of nine new faces featuring for the first time, partnered Billy Jowitt in the halves.

It was strange seeing no Brandon Pickersgill, Ross Oakes or Sam Hallas on the list – although Hallas was at the game ahead of his Newcastle debut at Barrow next week.

Batley had not trained since before Christmas and Lingard claimed that his players might be “undercooked” for their first competitive outing. Covid issues had ruled out their planned derby with Dewsbury.

And they were soon trailing as the Bulls cashed in from the game’s first penalty, Patton sending in Sam Scott to score against the club where he played for three years before York.

Luke Hooley then put the kick-off out on the full – paving the way for the hosts to strike again. Jowitt was halted 10 metres out but there was no denying Steve Crossley from close range.

Batley winger Jonny Campbell, who had a season with the Bulls, scooted away from a suspiciously-forward looking pass but failed to gather his kick and chase in the greasy conditions as the line beckoned.

Campbell, though, made no mistake from their next raid as George Senior did well to scoop up Tom Gilmore’s bouncing ball and send him in the corner.

And Batley were level two minutes later with Lucas Walshaw barrelling over the line from a couple of metres.

Parity didn’t last long with Patton again at the heart of it for the Bulls with an extravagant one-handed basketball pass to open the way for Elliot Kear to finish. Patton’s touchline kick bounced back off the post.

But it was Batley who went in ahead at the half-time hooter thanks to a ball steal as Alistair Leak set up Senior to add a try to an impressive opening 40 minutes for the left centre.

The Bulldogs then increased their lead three minutes after the restart as a bouncing high kick down the middle caused confusion and Luke Hooley followed in to cross with a dive under the posts.

Patton was instrumental once more in a fourth Bulls try eight minutes later. His testing kick was fumbled by Perry Whiteley under heavy pressure and the loose ball was recycled for Dan Fleming to finish.

But back came Batley again thanks to some innovative thinking from Campbell. The winger raced off on a mazy dribble kicking the ball through the Bulls defence and touching down his second score in the far corner.

Gilmore missed for the first time with the extras – like Patton earlier his kick clanging off the upright.

The Bulls’ attempts to hit back when Kieran Gill was denied by some valiant goalline defence – while Campbell came close to claiming a personal hat-trick from another Bulldogs break.

Tempers briefly flared when Whiteley was held up just short of the line after a five-man passing move and again as the Bulls looked to cross midfield in increasingly filthy conditions.

BULLS: J Burton; Dawson-Jones, R Evans, Gill, Kear; Patton, Jowitt; Walker, Flanagan, Crossley, Wallace, Scott, B Evans. Interchange: Doyle, Baldwinson, Scurr, Foggin-Johnston, Fleming, Camden, Horner, Arundel, Forshaw.

BATLEY: Hooley; Whiteley, Morton, Senior, Campbell; White, Gilmore; Gledhill, O Burton; Everett, Buchanan, Walshaw, Brown. Interchange: Blagborough, Carr, Collinson, Hodson, Leak, Lilycrop, Ward.