Halifax boss Richard Marshall has scrutinised Widnes’ game with a “fine tooth comb” in a bid to find potential weaknesses ahead of Sunday’s opening Super 8s showdown at the Shay (3.0).
Fax kick off their seven-game Qualifiers campaign against Denis Betts’ side, with the Vikings arguably - judging by their ninth-placed Super League finish - the most difficult opponents Marshall’s side will face over the next two months.
“In my opinion, they’re the best team in the Qualifiers; they’ve beaten Warrington and a few other top sides during the year and their league position reflected that,” said Marshall, who admitted he was now drawing directly on his experience as an assistant coach with the Wolves as the battle commences for places in the top flight in 2016.
“We’ve watched their recent games and they do have weaknesses and they do make some mistakes, which is probably why they are where they are in comparison to teams like Leeds and St Helens, who make fewer.
“But you do have to look very carefully and go over things with a fine tooth comb to find those little weaknesses, whereas in the Championship - and this is no disrespect to any of the Championship teams - those areas are generally a lot more obvious.
“It’s been a challenge for me getting back up to speed with that degree of preparation; I coached at that level for six years so I know how teams play.
“We know they’re going to be bigger and stronger and faster than we are, so we have to try and start fast and maintain that, because Widnes will.
“They’ve a world class player in Kevin Brown and to put it into perspective, Danny Craven, who was outstanding for us when he was here on loan, will probably struggle to make their side this week because of the players they have available.”
Marshall said he had set his players no targets for the end of season run in, although he admitted his squad “were up” for what would be an unlikely promotion challenge.
“We’ve achieved what we set out to achieve already, which was to finish top four in the Championship, anything else is a bonus,” he said.
“We’re starting off as the eighth-best team in the Qualifiers, if we can win some games and end up as the sixth or seventh team, that would be great.
“Look, I think it’s highly unlikely we’re going to challenge for a Super League place and, as a business, I’m not sure we’re ready for that yet.
“But the players are up for that challenge and if it came along, we wouldn’t be turning it down.
“We want to finish the season on a high though and I think everyone is excited about the next seven games.”
Marshall said Fax could field what would potentially rank as their strongest side of the year so far, with prop Luke Ambler and back rower Ross Divorty both in contention for returns from injury, although another forward, Adam Robinson, is expected to be sidelined for another week.
“We’ve got some bodies back now and there are going to be some people missing out who have played all year,” said Marshall.