HALIFAX are off the mark in the Co-operative Championship after full back Ryan Fieldhouse and half back Anthony Thackeray both scored twice in a dominant home success over Barry Eaton’s Hunslet.
The biggest compliment you could pay Fax coach Karl Harrison and his patched-up side, which, with injuries and suspensions, was missing half a dozen frontline players, was that this was a game they never once looked like losing.
They were particularly impressive before the break, running in five tries to set up a decisive 28-6 half time scoreline.
And while long stretches of the second half were rather less fluid, as referee Tim Roby got all lenient with some fairly blatant slowing-down tactics from the Hawks, Fax finished with a flourish as Fieldhouse plundered a double to maintain the feel-good factor.
Overall, there was plenty for Harrison to be pleased about.
With his forwards, again well led by the veteran Jim Gannon and back rower Adam Robinson, in commanding form, half backs Paul Handforth and Anthony Thackeray found themselves with a rock-solid platform to work on.
The playmaking pair, both new to the club this season, had probably their best 80 minutes together so far: Handforth directing the midfield traffic and kicking well, Thackeray providing the cutting edge with a couple of dazzling moments of individual flair.
As Harrison keeps pointing out, Fax aren’t there yet. But it is difficult to deny the signs of progress.
They had made the first break of the game, Steve Tyrer sprinting clear down the left before being rounded up by the cover, paving the way for two repeat sets as Handforth and Thackeray both placed clever kicks into the in goal.
Thackeray and young loose forward Callum Casey both looked particularly threatening, but when the try finally arrived on eight minutes it came from the hooker Sean Penkywicz, scooting out from a play the ball and running across and finally through the Hawks defence to score on the left.
Tyrer kicked the conversion for a 6-0 lead and the home side were nearly over again within a couple of minutes, Gannon slipping the pass in the shadow of the posts but the ball going to ground.
The drought did not last long, Thackeray emerging from a scramble of players to pounce on Handforth’s dangerous cross kick on 16 minutes and Tyrer doubling the lead with the conversion.
Fax almost opened the Hawks up again just past quarter time, Penkywicz forcing a third repeat set with a nicely judged chip and chase and Handforth just unable to reel in a speculative offload from the rampaging Robinson.
Hunslet weren’t so fortunate just before the half hour, Handforth lofting the ball deftly over the defence and Casey pouncing to score by the right of the posts, Tyrer’s boot making it 18-0.
The Hawks got a break soon after, Penkywicz ripping the ball out late in the tackle count, referee James Roby wiping it back to zero and replacement hooker Joe McLocklan sending the veteran prop Neil Lowe stretching under the posts.
The respite proved temporary as the home side continued to open gaps all over the field; Thackeray scoring a fine solo try with a couple of dummies and some dazzling footwork.
Tyrer kicked Fax 24-6 up, and that became 28-6 on the final play of the half when centre Ben Heaton powered over in the right corner.
The second half began as the first had ended, Joe Chandler barging on to Thackeray’s pass wide on the right and carting a posse of defenders over the line with him.
At 32-6, Hunslet looked set for a real caning until substitute Scott Watson steadied the ship with a try from Richard Blakeway’s pass.
That heralded the Hawks’ best spell of the afternoon, with the nagging presence of David March irritating the home side in attack and defence.
The visitors briefly closed to within two points of a bonus point at 32-18 when they scored a third try, from the former Keighley and Rochdale forward Ryan Benjafield with 14 minutes to go, but that was as good as it got.
Fieldhouse, who had been breaking tackles all game without quite managing to find open field, finally slipping his shackles to score from Handforth’s pass in the left corner.
Handforth, kicking in the absence of the injured Steve Tyrer, kicked the goal for 38-18 and was on target again four minutes from the end when Thackeray conjured the try of the match for Fax’s number one, darting clear from half way before slipping a round-the-man pass for Fieldhouse to score.