Plenty on the line in NRC opener

THE success or otherwise of Karl Harrison’s new-look Halifax regime will not be decided at Dewsbury’s Rams Stadium tomorrow.

But it is a long time since the club faced such a potentially pivotal opening fixture.

Harrison, who has rebuilt the club’s on-field set up from the ground up since being appointed in September, has never shied away from the importance of this Northern Rail Cup showdown.

The former Great Britain front rower believes he needs three wins from four group fixtures to be sure of a quarter final place.

And, unlike in previous years, when ‘soft’ draws made it harder to fail than to succeed, that road is a rocky one in 2012.

Fax should have enough class to eclipse Championship One pair Rochdale, at the Shay next weekend, and London Skolars, who they meet in north London next month.

But Featherstone, the dominant force in the Championship over the last two seasons, are due at the Shay in a fortnight for a fixture that Harrison will aspire to win but which is, at best, a 50/50 call.

Which leaves Dewsbury.

Their coach Warren Jowitt all but admitted earlier in the week that if this game had been away, he would have regarded it as a virtual hiding-to-nothing.

The venue changes that, because the Rams are more reliant on home advantage than any other side in the Championship.

Away from home, while never less than physically challenging, they can appear limited, one-dimensional.

On their own narrow piece of turf, they become a different proposition.

In a nutshell, you can’t go round them, you have to go through them.

And against Jowitt’s old-school brand of bash-and-barge, that is no easy task.

Factor in a surface which will have suffered under the snow and rain of the last week, and these two teams start on something close to level terms.

Someone told me earlier in the week that Fax would definitely win because of the ‘quality’ of their squad.

That may turn out to be true, but building a platform from which to demonstrate it is the real challenge.

The visitors will need to perform if they want to win. Harrison, who pushed his side’s warm up programme out from three games to four in a bid to build understanding and momentum specifically for this one fixture, is well aware of that.

Fax need to hold the ball, kick well and be patient.

They must also find the same raw energy and aggression their hosts pride themselves on.

All things being equal, the resulting contest is unlikely to be a free-flowing spectacle.

But it should be tough, tense and absorbing: Proper winter rugby league.

A loss would not necessarily prove fatal to Fax’s hopes of a return to the competition’s final at Blackpool in July.

And in fairness to Harrison, it would be a huge surprise if Fax do not improve significantly as the weeks go by.

But there is no mistaking his determination to start with a win.