HALIFAX faltered in their pursuit of the top six Co-operative Championship clubs after the narrowest of home defeats by Karl Harrison’s Batley.
In a nip-and-tuck contest, the second-placed Bulldogs - who, like Fax, went into the match on the back of a four game winning streak - dominated the first half to lead 22-10 at the break.
But Fax, inspired by captain Sean Penkywicz, stormed back into the contest after the break, levelling at 24-24 before a Rob Worrincy interception finally gave them the lead at 28-24 with 16 minutes to go.
But a Johnny Campbell try, which exploited Fax’s frail right side defence with alarming ease, tied things up at 28-28 giving Bulldogs half back Paul Handforth the chance to regain the lead from the sideline.
Handforth, the former Wakefield half back who was the most dangerous attacker on the field by some distance, stepped up and nervelessly hammered over the conversion to leave Fax chasing a two point deficit with around three minutes remaining.
Matt Calland’s side gave it a go, Dylan Nash regaining possession from Danny Jones’ short kick off, but when Sam Barlow lost possession in front of the posts attempting an understandly marginal offload, the chance – and the game – were gone.
Danny Maun’s late try, again scored on Fax’s right, gave the scoreline a rather lopsided look that neither side really deserved after a match that was rarely less than absorbing.
Halifax had begun well enough, Worrincy and Jones forcing early drop outs on a sweltering afternoon when possession was always likely to be a key factor.
Fax’s problem – as it had been in their last home game, against Hunslet a couple of weeks earlier – was that they didn’t really manage to do anything with it as the half backs, Danny Jones and Ben Black, struggled to prise open Batley’s steely defence.
The Bulldogs didn’t have the same problem, largely thanks to some super kicking from Handforth, who set up back rower Alex Bretherton’s ninth minute score, which he also converted.
Fax drew level when hooker Bob Beswick forced his way over from close range on 13 minutes, Jones kicking the goal for 6-6.
But it was the ‘Dogs who continued to look the more threatening team, back rower Dane Manning being held up over the line just before quarter time.
And when Handforth put the ball in the air soon after, it was Bretherton who pounced to collect his second four points of the game.
Handforth proved he was at least fallible by missing the kick, but he got another chance quickly enough after loose forward Ash Lindsay had forced his way in from point-blank range.
Fax were deep in trouble at 16-6, and when yet another Handforth kick was pounced on by winger Alex Brown, Handforth converting, Batley held a 22-6 lead just seconds before half time.
The home side grabbed a lifeline when Black and Dylan Nash, who had seemed on different wavelengths until that point, finally combined for the Australian centre to touchdown, Jones converting for a 22-10 interval scoreline.
Fax emerged refreshed and dominated the third quarter, with Penkywicz’s attacking spark finally promising to ignite their attack.
The hooker scored the first try himself, running in straight from a 20 metre scrum after Jones, who added the extras, had forced a drop out.
Batley then extended their lead in bizarre circumstances, referee Tim Roby awarding a penalty that Handforth kicked easily, despite a glaring knock on from centre Jason Walton in the build up.
Fax roared back again, Penkywicz’s chip, chase and close control taking the ball over the defence and past Campbell, giving Jones the chance to finish the job by the posts.
The stand off kicked the conversion to narrow the gap to two before Beswick’s intelligent running won the 60th minute penalty for offside that allowed Jones to square things up.
Four minutes later Fax were in front for the first time in the game, Worrincy pouncing on Maun’s pass and out-sprinting Campbell in a very rapid race down the right hand touchline to score in the corner.
Crucially, Jones’ kick drifted just wide, leaving a chink of light that Batley and Handforth exploited ruthlessly.