HALIFAX’S desperate search for their first Co-operative Championship win of 2011 goes on after they were outplayed for significant periods by pace-setters Leigh.
Ian Millward’s side, who had won three from three going into this game, dominated the opening half hour and opened up a 10-0 lead before Fax somehow managed to get on terms going into half time.
They scored two fine tries, from young back rower Joe Chandler and full back Miles Greenwood, raising hopes that their win-less start to the league campaign might be coming to an end.
That proved a mirage, as the visitors turned the screw in the second half – just as Featherstone Rovers had done a couple of weeks earlier – to run out convincing winners.
Fax held them for 10 minutes after the break, but the four tries in 14 minutes that followed ended this game as a contest with alarming ease.
Things might have been different if Fax had accepted the most gilt-edged of chances to level at 16-16 with 24 minutes to go, Greenwood going clear before throwing an awful pass that fell in between the supporting Lee Paterson and Paul White and rolled harmlessly over the touchline.
Leigh promptly went up the other end and scored again and that, as far as the win went, was that.
Fax still had the persistence to score twice in the closing minutes – through winger Rob Worrincy and, most spectacularly, the recalled Paterson - to clinch a bonus point and show that when they do click into gear going forward they remain a dangerous proposition.
There had been worrying signs in both defence and attack early on, Leigh successfully rounding Graham Holroyd for the first time inside two minutes and then Greenwood throwing a forward pass that gave the visitors a turnover near half way.
And it was Leigh who took the lead on five minutes, prop Chris Hill bursting through the centre of the defence and picking up supporting half back Jamie Ellis, who just about evaded the cover to touchdown by the posts.
Mick Nanyn kicked a routine conversion for a 6-0 lead, and although Fax regained possession from the kick off, the early exchanges were definitively in the visitors’ favour.
They almost scored again as the quarter hour approached, winger Dean McGilvary outjumping Worrincy to claim Ellis’ bomb, with only referee Clint Sharrad’s offside call saving Fax from a double-figure deficit.
McGilvary was almost over again within minutes, with only a heroic last-ditch lunge from Danny Jones pushing his heel on to the touchline whitewash with Fax’s defence torn to shreds.
It seemed inevitable that Leigh would extend their lead sooner rather than later, and that was exactly how it worked out, veteran back rower Stuart Littler stretching past Paul White to score in the corner.
Nanyn’s conversion drifted a millimetre wide, but at that stage Leigh’s dominance was so total it was difficult to see how Fax were going to get into the game.
Nanyn almost scored after picking off Jones’ attempted chip on half way, only Greenwood and Worrincy’s determined chase saving the moment.
Yet the home side broke their duck within a minute of that escape, Chandler barging over on the left after Holroyd and Greenwood had opened the defence.
Holroyd skewed the conversion from touch, but Fax could have added to their tally when Jones stepped through close to the line on the right, but his speculative pass could not find Worrincy.
They were level three minutes before the break though, Penkywicz winning a penalty, Jim Gannon striding into open field and the supporting Greenwood having the pace and footwork to round Stuart Donlan and score under the posts.
Holroyd converted and the sides went to the break locked at 10-10, paving the way for a tense opening to the second period.
Fax cracked first, Hill charging over to the left of the posts after 50 minutes and Nanyn kicking Leigh into a 16-10 lead.
Then came the big chance, Greenwood sailing clear from Holroyd’s sweet inside pass with Paterson and White unmarked on his outside, only for what should have been the scoring pass to end up in the East Stand.
Leigh made their hosts pay immediately, Martyn Ridyard putting Steve Maden over in the corner and Nanyn kicking the conversion from the sideline.
And at 22-10 the visitors began to exploit the percentages even more expertly than they had done for the previous 50-odd minutes.
They got their reward when Maden scored a second after some super crossfield passing, Nanyn on target again from the sideline.
At 28-10, Fax were looking at damage limitation, but even that proved beyond them in the short term, Littler grabbing his second as the home side’s troublesome left-side defence was torn to shreds again.
With the game gone, paradoxically Fax seemed to relax and began to attack with some of their old verve.
Worrincy finished smartly on the right with three minutes remaining, Holroyd converting, before White was taken in touch after some brilliant handling.
Fax did get their reward, Paterson scoring after handling twice in another dazzling move to score on the final play of the game.
But it was difficult to know whether that flurry was potentially a turning point of sorts or simply too little, too late.