Sheffield Eagles 22 Halifax 24
Halifax are on their way back to Blackpool for a second consecutive Northern Rail Cup final after an extraordinary comeback at the Don Valley Stadium.
Karl Harrison’s side, nursing the physical and mental scars that resulted from last week’s loss to Featherstone – who now await at Bloomfield Road - were simply awful before the break and will probably count themselves lucky to have only trailed 18-4 at the interval.
But whatever their coach told them in that crucial 10 minutes clearly worked as the visitors were a team transformed in the second 40 minutes.
The misplaced passes, missed tackles and all-round hesitancy of that nightmare first 40 were replaced by defensive bite, a little invention and a real air of determination.
Stand off Paul Handforth kick started the scoring 10 minutes into the second half, improvising a kick to set up a try for the former Eagles winger Rob Worrincy.
Centre Steve Tyrer kicked the conversion, and when the outstanding Dane Manning stormed clear to send half back Anthony Thackeray under the posts, Tyrer closed the gap to 18-16 with 20 minutes remaining.
Fax levelled with a penalty for offside and then got the break their endeavour deserved; Thackeray’s kick drawing a horrible fumble from the Eagles full back Quentin Laula-Togagae and the visitors’ other winger Wayne Reittie pouncing for the touchdown.
Tyrer held his nerve to kick the goal off the touchline to keep Fax a converted try clear, and although the Eagles managed to snatch a late try through Michael Knowles, stand off Simon Brown couldn’t match Tyrer’s feat and sent the conversion well wide.
Earlier, it had been Knowles who had given the home side the lead, scoring from Brown’s grubber kick, despite a suggestion he was in an offside position.
Brown converted, and the stand off was on target again on the quarter hour when hooker Andrew Henderson dived through a yawning gap to touchdown, Brown kicking the Eagles 12-0 up.
The home side were almost over again when perpetual dangerman Menzie Yere lost the ball in the act of scoring as Fax, looking brittle with and without the ball, made error after error.
They had a half chance when Thackeray scooped up possession on the right and fired a pass towards the unmarked Worrincy, but the ball sailed harmlessly into touch.
It was all Sheffield now and it was hardly a shock when winger Scott Turner snatched a Dominic Brambani cross kick out of Worrincy’s arms to score his side’s third try of the night.
Brown did the business with the boot, but Fax needed an instant response and they got it, regaining possession from the kick off and Handforth sending full back Ryan Fieldhouse through from the scrum.
Lee Paterson put a horrible slice on what looked a relatively simple kick, but at least Fax were on the board at 18-4.
The Eagles were promptly awarded a penalty at the other end, but took the conservative option of going for goal and Brown put the ball wide.
Yere was held up a whisker short of the line as half time approached and Fax threatened to implode, but Harrison’s side managed to hang on until the break without sustaining further damage.
It was a different story in the second half though.
Sheffield: Laula-Togagae; Turner, Yere, Taulapapa, Morrison; Brown, Brambani; Howieson, Henderson, Stringer, Knowles, Scott, Hirst. Subs: Smith, Straugheir, Green, Higgins
Halifax: Fieldhouse; Worrincy, Tyrer, Paterson, Reittie; Handforth, Thackeray; Gannon, Penkywicz, Ambler, Manning, Robinson, Ashall. Subs: Bowman, Casey, Barlow, Aizue
Referee: Ronnie Laughton