COACH Ian Clarke has helped to mastermind a revival in Halifax RUFC’s fortunes this season as the club continues to build following the well-documented and dramatic events of three seasons ago.
Promotion from Yorkshire Six in their first season was a bonus but after enduring a difficult campaign last time, Halifax have put themselves in with a real chance of achieving promotion to Yorkshire Three, where they could lock horns with Calderdale rivals Old Rishworthians and Halifax Vandals next season.
That would give Clarke immense satisfaction, particularly as Halifax did not get off to the best of starts.
They opened their campaign with three defeats in their first four matches. However, they have turned things around in spectacular style and sit in fifth place following a nine game unbeaten run.
“We lost three games at the start of the season and it was tough,” said Clarke. “Players were unavailable which naturally caused us a few problems.
“The transformation has been down to a few things. There were some basic adjustments to the squad which saw centres Tony Curtis and Dwaine West move into the back row and that has given us a lot more stability.
“Also we have Craig Emmerson, Stuart Hill and Nick O’Connor at the club which I believe represents one of the most formidable coaching teams in the area if not the county.
“It is great for the young players coming through that they have people like this to learn from and that can only be good for the club.”
Building an Academy side was high on the list of priorities when the club reformed and that is now paying off.
“We are starting to see some of the young players breaking through and settling in very well,” added Clarke. “Luke Sturman is only 17 yet he has scored 13 tries in the first team this season from No 8.
“Ben Maxwell is also 17 and plays at six. He has just been selected for Yorkshire at under 19 level so obviously we are doing something right.”
Clarke is also convinced that Halifax will be able to see off any potential approaches from clubs for their emerging talent “as long as we keep moving forward.”
“If we stand still then it could be a different story,” added Clarke.
Confidence is always a major factor in sport and Clarke believes the fact the club are doing well off the field is being transferred to the players on it.
“It has been installing that confidence and getting the players to believe in themselves,” added Clarke. “Discipline both on and off the field was something I wanted to tackle and get right and the players have responded. There are a lot of things going on and Ovenden Park is a good place to be at the moment.”
Clarke’s immediate focus is a meeting with Old Grovians in four weeks time. That, he believes, could well be the game that determines where Halifax will be playing their rugby next season.
“All the teams above us have got to play each other and naturally they will be taking points off each other,” he said. “We have got some very winnable games coming up but it is the game against Old Grovians which may be the clincher.
“The players know they have nothing to fear. The fact that they ran Yorkshire Three side Baildon so close in the Silver Trophy showed them that.
“Also, the true spirit showed through in our last game when we beat Hemsworth who were top of the league. That was a brilliant way to end 2011.”
Clarke is still young and ambitious and his aim is to get Halifax into Yorkshire Two before he decides whether to hand the baton on to somebody else.
But he is rightly proud of the role he has played in striving to get a club which was playing in National Two not so long since back on the rugby map.
“I came in with five games to go at the end of last season with relegation a real possibility,” he added. “They wanted me to help stabilise the club and that is what we did.
“It is still very much a long game. We are looking to build gradually and put the foundations in place rather than going for quick glory.
“If we can get promoted at the end of the season then that would be brilliant and another step along the road.”