Halifax coach Karl Harrison identified the two first half brawls that temporarily saw both sides reduced to 11 men as the tipping point in Sunday’s 36-28 loss to Championship leaders Leigh.
Fax, who were again missing game breaking half back Ben Johnston and in-form centre Danny Cowling through injury, looked on course for victory when they led 24-0 after half an hour on the back of their best performance of the year.
But two outbreaks of fighting in quick succession, the first sparked by former Fax player Sam Barlow, saw referee Chris Leatherbarrow issue yellow cards to Barlow and his teammate Jamie Acton as well as Fax pair Andy Bracek and Tony Tonks.
Barlow, who was booed every time he touched the ball, then scored a scrambled try seconds after returning to the fray before the half time hooter - sparking a comeback which saw the visitors go 36-24 ahead - before being red carded for punching Fax wingman Gareth Potts as he was substituted with around 30 minutes remaining.
“They started two brawls and they got momentum off the back of that,” said Harrison, who declined to discuss Leatherbarrow’s performance, despite doubts over at least two of Leigh’s second half touchdowns..
“I thought they were probably premeditated to be honest, but that’s my opinion.
“In the end, the sending off probably worked in their favour; I thought they played better with 12 than with 13.
“I didn’t know why Barlow was sent off until afterwards, when I found out it was because he had allegedly hit someone coming off the field.
“I don’t want to talk about the referee, but we certainly got some tough calls.
“I thought we played exceptionally well in the first half, but we came out a little bit slowly in the second; what we’d done to them, they did to us.
“We found it hard to get possession of the ball again.
“It’s certainly disappointing, frustrating, but that’s the way the game is sometimes.
“We’ve got some upset players at the moment but we need to pick ourselves up and get ready for Friday at Barrow.”
Harrison, who allowed stand off Simon Brown to join Batley on loan on Thursday, selected Paul Mennell at half back in place of Johnston, with the former Bradford junior tormenting Leigh’s right side defence during the opening 40 minutes.