More at stake than safe passage

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ONE way or another, Karl Harrison’s Halifax team will evolve a little more at Leigh Sports Village tomorrow afternoon.

Fax go into battle against the home side with a place in the quarter finals of the Carnegie Challenge Cup up for grabs.

And if that wasn’t a big enough prize for Harrison and his players, there’s more.

The reign of the former Great Britain front rower, which is still only 10 competitive games old, hit its first real obstacle last week when Leigh rumbled over the top of them at the Shay.

The Centurions, coached by Paul Rowley, the man who used to pack down next to Harrison in the Fax front row, secured a 32-18 Co-operative Championship win to inflict a first defeat in five league starts for the home side.

What made the loss worse was the manner in which it unfolded. And it is that which has had the more vociferous terrace critics frothing at the mouth over the last week.

Fax were absolutely all over their visitors for going on for half an hour; drop out after drop out, set after set, and a huge territorial advantage.

But once Leigh got those two quick, and it has to be said, soft, tries just past the half hour, the visitors grew in confidence while Fax visibly waned.

A couple of scores in the final minutes, from Wayne Reittie and Ben Heaton, could hardly disguise the extent of the damage.

The fascinating thing now will be how they respond.

Can the players lift themselves? Can they find answers to the questions they will surely be asked by Leigh playmakers John Duffy and Martyn Ridyard, after being systematically picked apart by them twice already this year? And can Harrison come up with an attacking key to a defence that looked to have the measure of everything thrown at it last Thursday?

Harrison, who had been relatively critical of his players after that match, made it clear this week he did not feel his team had played that badly.

Fax’s only real flaw during that opening 25 minutes or so was that they did not score more points, with a side leading only 6-0 always vulnerable.

Two things: The first is that they could and should have been 12-0 ahead, if Sean Penkywicz and Anthony Thackeray hadn’t managed to get tangled up with the line open.

The second is that even without more points, Leigh would have been expected to fade late in the game after getting through so much tackling.

The problem was that Fax had been so uncharacteristically weak on their own line that the deficit was just too big to bridge.

So that is the biggest single challenge tomorrow: to blunt the Leigh attack. In two games, one friendly, one competitive, Rowley’s side have posted more than 70 points.

Fax need to find a solution to that, not just for the sake of a potential money-spinning last eight date with a Wigan, a Leeds or a St Helens, but for their own self belief and the league and cup battles yet to come.

Psychological ground lost to rivals now, early in the year, can prove difficult to regain later.