Marshall: We must improve to grasp top four prize

Fax had Ben Johnston in two-try form
Fax had Ben Johnston in two-try form

Halifax could clinch a top four Championship finish at Doncaster next Sunday (2.0) after winning a Shay thriller 25-22 against Batley to stretch their winning streak to seven games.

Half back Ben Johnston touched down twice for Fax, who led 24-6 inside the final quarter before a series of errors gifted the Bulldogs the platform to stage a late comeback.

Elsewhere, Featherstone’s 52-18 loss at Leigh left Fax with a two point advantage on the league ladder, meaning a win at Doncaster - who finally won their first game of the season, against Hunslet - coupled with a Rovers loss against Sheffield at the same venue would seal fourth and a place in the so-called ‘middle eight’ alongside the bottom four Super League sides.

But Fax’s form was of more immediate concern to coach Richard Marshall.

“We have had some tough games over the last five or six weeks and we looked a little bit jaded, mentally as much as physically,” said Marshall.

“Combine that with a resolute Batley team and it was a hard afternoon.

“Let’s be honest, we’ve not tossed anything up like that over the last six weeks.

“But it was unlikely we were going to go right through to the end of the season with that form.

“We’ll have our best week in training this week, work harder with the ball and go to Doncaster to put on a good performance.

“They’ve won, which is good for the competition, and they’ll be confident after winning but we want to win with a very good performance because we weren’t good enough today.

“If that’s good enough for fourth place, so be it.”

In a stop-start contest, Fax struggled to get their attacking game into gear, while both coaches were clearly left frustrated with the performance of Cumbrian referee Gareth Hewer and his officials.

“It was the slowest game we’ve played for a while, but that was down to the tactics of the opposition as much as the referee,” said Marshall, who was grateful to captain Scott Murrell, who added an intelligent drop goal with the score at 24-18 to give the home side a crucial seven-point lead.

“The main thing is that our standards weren’t where they have been all season and that’s the key factor.

“Batley made us work hard; I didn’t think we were ever comfortable.

“Our skills weren’t good enough with the ball, and while our goalline defence was very good at times, there were a couple of uncharacteristic slips.

“We must credit Batley, they came with a good game plan and really got stuck in and, for parts of the game, were probably the better team.

“But we had some special plays from Ben Johnston, who was great again, and Scott Murrell and they got us home.”