THE post-Brian Noble improvement everyone expected materialised at Post Office Road yesterday.
But it still was not enough to earn struggling Halifax anything other than a bonus point at a venue that represents arguably the toughest away-day in the Co-operative Championship and saw two 40-point losses in 2010.
Noble wasn’t even in Featherstone yesterday, kept away by BBC commitments, but the infectious blend of enthusiasm and confidence he has brought to the club over the last six days certainly was.
Fax still had their technical failings – they were too slack in possession in the second half and their defence looked a little too easily disrupted in the first – but they were fewer and further between.
And the visitors, who clawed their way back from a 20-6 half time deficit to trail 20-18 and were still gunning for a draw with four minutes to go, definitely looked a much more resilient team than they have been so far this season.
An injury-hit line up, that saw Danny Jones drafted in at full back in the absence of the hamstrung Miles Greenwood and Bob Beswick partner Ben Black at the scrum base, did enjoy some good fortune, with Rovers marksman Liam Finn only managing to convert two of Rovers’ seven tries, including an on-the-hooter miss from the touchline that would have robbed Fax of a precious bonus point, but that was the least the visitors deserved.
Rovers had taken the lead on seven minutes, Penkywicz conceding a penalty in possession in a great position on Rovers’ 20 metre line and the home side promptly rolled down the slope to engineer a score in the left hand corner for centre Andy Bostock.
Liam Finn missed the conversion, and Fax, despite playing against the famous slope, certainly looked more solid, even surviving a point-blank assault after Lee Paterson had lost the ball straight from a scrum.
The visitors got some attacking position of their own when Johnny Hepworth fumbled Ben Black’s kick and Rovers conceded a penalty, but Black’s attacking kick to end the set was a poor one.
Again, Featherstone made them pay, Kain ducking under a succession of swinging arms in midfield and sending Hepworth racing away to the posts.
This time Finn was on target, and when Greg Worthington scored on 24 minutes, after a knock down from a Finn kick that looked dubious at best, Fax were 14-0 down and facing a familiar scenario.
They got themselves back in the contest just shy of the half hour, Jones just having the legs to evade Bryn Powell after a 50 metre sprint upfield.
Lee Paterson converted, and might have scored himself on the next set of possession, the Rovers defence just managing to hold him up as Fax looked to exploit the departure of injured winger Bryn Powell.
Paul White, who had looked dangerous all half, then broke free but again the cover converged.
With four minutes to the break, Fax needed to hang on any way they could to a 14-6 scoreline that looked pretty favourable.
It proved beyond them, Matty Dale scoring to the right of the posts after another kick from Finn caused consternation on the right.
That was bad enough, what followed was bordering on unforgiveable.
Dylan Nash was penalised on the last play of the half for leading with the elbow, which gave Finn the chance to put Rovers 20-6 up from the touchline, prompting Penkywicz to lose his cool to such an extent that Gareth Hewer saw fit to show him the yellow card.
Luckily, there were no short-term repercussions early in the second period. Quite the opposite, in fact as Fax scored twice with 12 men.
The half was only three minutes old when White swooped on a kick on his own 10 metre line and sprinted away down the field for a try that was certain the moment he pulled his heel out of Sam Smeaton’s despairing grasp.
Paterson converted for 20-12 and Fax consolidated their foothold in the game when Jones’ kick forced Rovers to drop out.
Beswick’s slick offload then sent Stephen Bannister over, Paterson converting for a two point deficit at 20-18.
Rovers moved up a gear, just as they had at the Shay earlier in the spring, but this time Fax were able to keep pace.
Even a fumble from Black in his own 20 was defended comfortably, and when Jim Gannon came up with a shuddering tackle on Michael Haley, forcing the ball free, Fax swept downfield and only Ian Hardman’s desperate ankle tap forced White’s heel onto the whitewash as he raced down the short side after Beswick and Paterson worked the opening.
Black and Bannister did brilliantly to prevent a drop out as the clock ticked down towards the last 10 minutes.
White was then faced with a crucial decision after he fielded a tricky kick just inside his own dead ball line: cut infield or go for broke.
He went for broke, beating the first defender on the try line and then taking Powell on down the sideline.
It was high risk and potentially high reward: if he had escaped he was a certain scorer, if he failed Fax had work to do.
The dice rolled wrong, Powell pushed him onto the paintwork and Fax could not hold out, Powell finishing typically strongly in the corner after Rovers went from right to left and back again.
Finn missed again, leaving Fax with a shot at the draw at 24-18.
They certainly went for it, Jones forcing another drop out as the visitors piled the pressure on down the slope.
In the end, they didn’t have it though, either with the ball or without. The largely excellent Beswick was penalised for a high tackle and then Hewer pulled someone out for a push in back play, a decision that gave Finn the chance to give Rovers breathing space at 26-18 with four minutes remaining.
Fax still pushed forward, but an error gave Rovers a scrum deep inside their own half and Powell somehow beat Jones, White and Worrincy to Finn’s first-tackle kick, Hepworth cleaning up the scraps to score in the corner.
Finn’s conversion would have edged Rovers 14 points clear – and left Fax bottom of the league ladder – but it drifted wide.