Halifax 24 Hull KR 26
THREE games, three losses. That probably wasn’t Matt Calland’s vision of the perfect pre season.
But after this vastly improved performance Halifax’s title-winning coach can take his side to the Willows to face Swinton in next week’s Northern Rail Cup opener in upbeat mood.
In the end, Liam Colbon’s last-play try, converted by Craig Hall, gave a Hull KR side that blended the club’s best youngsters with nine members of coach Justin Morgan’s top squad a two-point victory.
In between, Halifax showed enough promise in all aspects of the game to answer most of the questions raised by back to back losses at Bradford and Batley.
Fax clawed their way back from 12-0 down to level at 12-12 at the break, then overhauled a 20-12 deficit to lead 24-18 before Colbon burst the bubble in stoppage time.
Defensively they were reasonably solid across the field, with only their former hooker Ben Fisher consistently exposing the yawning gap that exists between Super League and Championship.
And while they were patchy with the ball in hand - too often pushing the pass, particularly in the first half - there was enough promise in the work of the players like Sam Barlow, Danny Jones, Sean Penkywicz, Miles Greenwood and Paul White to suggest the points will continue to flow in 2011.
Neither side did anything to lift a low-key atmosphere during the opening exchanges, although Rovers looked the more composed side.
And they made the first breakthrough on the scoreboard, centre Kris Welham pouncing on a Kristian Bell kick after Rob Worrincy, who was linked with a move to Salford in the Lancashire media over the weekend, was beaten by the bounce.
Half back Luke Hardcastle added the conversion for a 6-0 lead and although Fax found an attacking foothold soon after - the impressive Barlow offloading to Greenwood and Jones’ kick forcing the Rovers defence to concede a 10 metre scrum - the chance was wasted when the ball ended up on the floor.
That was the story of Fax’s opening quarter, with too many errors giving Rovers every encouragement to dominate.
And the visitors doubled their lead on 19 minutes, giant back rower Jordan Cox stretching out after Fax had tried - and failed - to play their way out of trouble.
Things improved markedly thereafter, with Penkywicz’s dart from acting half back finally getting the team on the scoreboard just before the half hour.
Fax scored again on 34 minutes: Barlow’s charge down, pick up and 50 metre burst taking them to within 10 metres of the try line and long passes from Jones and Penkywicz giving Lee Paterson the chance to put White over in the corner.
Paterson was wide of the mark with the boot again, but he was over the line himself just before the interval after a brilliant break from trialist full back Ryan Fieldhouse, Jones supplying the scoring pass.
The conversion missed, as did an on-the-whistle penalty from half way after KR put the restart into touch, leaving the game finely poised at the break.
If Fax entertained hopes of continuing their purple patch into the second half, it was a idea swiftly banished by Welham, who scored twice in the opening eight minutes of the half, profiting from Fox’s sharp work on the left.
It took until the third quarter for Fax to find a way over the line, Barlow - who looks in career-best form - forcing his way over from close range after Jones had slipped a neat offload inside the Rovers’ 10 metre line.
Jones, taking over from the substituted Paterson, kicked the conversion and Fax trailed by two at 20-18.
Barlow looked to have scored again almost immediately, appearing to force the ball onto the line after a short pass from trialist hooker Danny Moran, but referee Jamie Leahy ruled he had been held up.
With the clock ticking down, Fax looked increasingly dangerous and when Penkywicz stabbed the ball along the ground on the left, White produced a great pick up and some even better footwork to force the ball over by the flag.
Jones hammered over the touchline conversion and Fax had seven minutes to hold on for the win.
They managed six minutes and 59 seconds, but then Hall’s break ended with Colbon scoring by the side of the posts, Hall stroking over the conversion.
Halifax: Miles Greenwood; Paul White, Lee Paterson, James Haley, Rob Worrincy; Sean Penkywicz, Danny Jones; Makali Aizue, Danny Moran, Jim Gannon, Stephen Bannister, Ryan Clayton, Sam Barlow. Subs: Frank Watene, Paul Smith, Joe Chandler, Josh Barlow, Neil Cherryholme, Michael Ostick, Mike Ratu, Dylan Nash, Setareki Talatoka, Ryan Fieldhouse
Hull KR: Louis Sheriff; Liam Colbon, Kris Welham, Ben Cockayne, Sam Latus, Kristian Bell, Luke Hardcastle; Joel Clinton, Josh Hodgson, Liam Watts, Scott Taylor, Jordan Cox, Dave Petersen. Subs: Ben Fisher, Richard Beaumont, Aaron Ollett, Craig Hall, Matt Cook, Liam Salter
Referee: Jamie Leahy