THERE is something about sudden-death rugby league that brings the best out of this Halifax team.
The reigning Co-operative Championship champions may not have set the competition alight this season, but show them the faintest glimpse of a trophy and all bets are suddenly off.
Damian Ball’s side overturned a 0-4 record against Batley in 2011 to win the game that really mattered, dumping Karl Harrison’s side out of the play offs on home soil.
If, as is widely expected, Harrison does take the job that Ball has filled with such distinction since the exit of Matt Calland, this victory will have been very sweet for the caretaker coach indeed.
Fax laid the foundations before the interval; playing with real vigour to trail just 12-6 after slogging up Mount Pleasant’s slope.
And they turned the screw expertly in the second 40, with a touchdown from Bob Beswick – selected at stand off ahead of Ben Black and Anthony Bowman - five minutes from the end finally killing off tough and skilful opponents to set up a meeting with the winners of Sunday’s clash between Sheffield and Widnes.
Fax started strongly up the slope, winning two early penalties and going close to a try when back rower Paul Smith scooped a low pass off his bootlaces and cut through to within a couple of metres of the whitewash.
Batley got their first chance after eight minutes, Danny Jones losing possession on half way, but a super run by the ever-impressive Dane Manning ended with a wild pass that sailed into touch over the head of winger Johnny Campbell.
A great kick from Paul Mennell then forced Rob Worrincy to concede a drop out, Fax compounding the situation with a penalty, before a Beswick interception eased the pressure.
The visitors had certainly given as good as they got during a high quality opening quarter, but they suffered three hammer blows in the space of a couple of minutes: Full back Miles Greenwood leaving the field with what looked like a rib problem, and Batley promptly capitalising with a brace of back to back tries.
Full back Ian Preece got the first from a close range offload, before the home side broke from the kick off and Paul Handforth sent Halifax based centre Daley Williams over in the corner.
Handforth converted both for a 12-0 lead and what had been an even contest suddenly had a lopsided look about it.
The visitors responded instantly, Beswick’s kick forcing a drop out, and Penkywicz, Beswick and Black giving centre James Haley the chance to carve a perfect line through the defence on the right hand side.
Jones converted to make it 12-6 on the half hour mark, although another attacking foothold that followed almost immediately came to nothing when Stephen Bannister could not hold Beswick’s pass close to the line.
The visitors were piling on the pressure as half time loomed, Penkywicz’s grubber forcing another repeat set before a similar kick from Black just rolled dead with Penkywicz chasing hard.
Batley then won a penalty on the stroke of half time, Handforth opting to kick from inside his own half as the hooter sounded in the background, but the ball drifted to the right of the uprights to leave the Bulldogs nursing a six-point advantage at the break.
Fax made a close to ideal start to the second period, forcing an error from Jason Walton on the first set of the half and Black’s kick almost forcing the Bulldogs to drop out.
A second error from the home side, quickly followed by a penalty, kept Fax on the front foot, Bannister being held up over the line by desperate defence.
Penkywicz then improvised: chipping over the top, the ball bouncing wildly over Preece’s head and Bannister pouncing for the try just inside the dead ball line.
Jones converted to level the scores at 12-12, but a brilliant restart, taken equally brilliantly by Campbell, might have led to another try immediately if Fax’s cover had not converged.
As it was, Batley had to make do with a simple penalty, awarded for holding Campbell down a second too long, that Mennell converted to promptly edge them 14-12 up on the 50 minute mark.
An error from Worrincy edged momentum back Batley’s way, but again Fax turned the tables brilliantly.
A penalty helped them down field, Black’s darting run got the defence back pedalling and Smith’s cut out ball to the unmarked Worrincy did the rest, Jones hammering over an impressive goal from the sideline for an 18-14 scoreline.
Batley’s error count continued to mount, Campbell fumbling Black’s downfield kick and Penkywicz crowning the next set with a typically determined finish from dummy half.
Jones kicked the goal for a 24-14 lead with a quarter of the game to go, although the Bulldogs blew a chance immediately when Wayne Reittie broke through but ignored the unmarked Danny Maun outside him.
Play continued though, and Manning pounced on a loose ball on the right to stretch over close to the corner flag, although crucially mennell’s missed conversion preserved Fax’s six-point lead at 24-18.
It didn’t last long though, Manning going close again on the right and the ball swinging back to the left where Preece stepped inside the cover and out of Jones’ desperate tackle to score.
Mennell again scuffed the kick, Fax leading 24-22 as the clock ticked down.
A drop out followed, although Campbell’s shove on Jones, which left the visitors’ stand in full back in the barriers and unhappy, seemed unnecessary.
Again though, when Fax needed to, they dug deep to preserve their line and Penkywicz’s grubber forced a drop out at the other end of the field.
They almost scored when Black and Beswick put Jones through half a gap, but he just lost control of the ball as he tried to force it down under the posts.
They were denied again nine minutes later, the video referee chalking off a Jacob Fairbank touchdown, and Batley responded with a devastating attack of their own, driving up the hill and Jones spilling a towering bomb under pressure to give the home side a gilt-edged chance to crack their visitors.
Fax held firm again though and responded in kind, Penkywicz stabbing another kick through, Paul White hacking on and Beswick pouncing for the touchdown.
Jones held his nerve to set up a 30-22 lead with five minutes remaining and although Batley regained possession briefly, a great tackle from Beswick forced the ball free again as Fax closed the game out comfortably with a late penalty.