HALIFAX took a huge step towards the last eight of the Northern Rail Cup with a seven-try success over trans-Pennine neighbours Rochdale.
It was a steady rather than spectacular performance from Karl Harrison’s side, who didn’t really need to get out of second gear against John Stankevitch’s Championship One side, who were playing their first match of any sort since September after a handful of postponements.
They only rarely seemed to find the edge that had characterised their opening day win at Dewsbury, but then again, they hardly needed to as they opened up a decisive 26-0 half time lead.
Until that point, they had been generally methodical and controlled, but the second 40 minutes were more ragged generally, drawing some post-match criticism from their coach.
The major plus was another defensive performance that restricted their opponents to a single try.
Rochdale, using the same playmaking combinations that had carried them to within a game of last season’s Grand Final, played with ambition and were never afraid to give the ball plenty of air, but it only rarely looked like paying dividends on the scoreboard.
The major minus for the home side was a knee injury suffered by key forward Iain Morrison, the extent of which will be determined in the next few days, which could reduce Harrison’s already threadbare selection options significantly.
Hornets had made an awful start, letting the kick off go dead and then conceding a penalty as Fax piled on the pressure.
They got away with it though, winger Paul White being shoved into touch from captain Sean Penkywicz’s sharp blindside pass.
White’s next involvement was a 50 metre touchline dash after confidently reeling in a cross kick and it was from there that Fax took the lead; Anthony Thackeray, who started at half back alongside Paul Handforth, and Dane Manning combining to send full back Ryan Fieldhouse over on the right.
Steve Tyrer kicked the goal for 6-0, but Hornets responded with no little skill, forcing a drop out after Fax turned the ball over on half way.
At the other end, a lopsided penalty count gave the home side plenty of good ball, but they struggled to turn it into points as Rochdale hung on with enthusiasm.
They were finally undone in the 17th minute, Thackeray taking the ball to the line and then showing and going before stretching out to slam it down on the whitewash.
Tyrer made it 12-0 and then just before the half hour former Hornet Craig Ashall and Penkywicz combined to send substitute Jim Gannon over with his first touch of the ball, Tyrer obliging with the easy kick.
Fax were over again six minutes before the break, Hornets losing possession 35 metres from their own line and Rob Worrincy romping over in the left corner from a scrum play.
Tyrer’s sideline kick hit the post and rebounded the wrong side of the crossbar, but at 22-0 Fax were already home and hosed.
They scored once more before half time, White finishing with some force in the left corner after Fieldhouse had chimed into the line.
Tyrer impressively managed to find the woodwork again, the ball again bouncing away, but at 26-0 the second half looked potentially uncomfortable for the Hornets.
Ashall was pulled back for offside with the line beckoning within seconds of the restart, but back-to-back penalties – the result of some increasingly fussy officiating from Matthew Thomason - put Hornets on the front foot and Stephen McDermott wriggled over to score from close range, stand off Paul Crook converting.
Rochdale continued to press, and it took some desperate defence from Tyrer to hold centre Dane Donoghue up over the whitewash.
But once Fax got their hands on the ball again, the result was inevitable: Gannon sending Ashall slicing through from 20 metres out and Tyrer kicking Fax 32-6 ahead.
As it turned out, that was pretty much that, as the game descended into an entirely forgettable last half hour.
To their credit, Rochdale continued to play with ambition. It was just that, in reality, they never really looked likely to get any reward.
It was almost inevitable that Fax, with the prop Sean Hesketh turning in a thunderous spell up front, would eventually score again and, finally, they did.
There were eight minutes remaining when Penkywicz, who had only been back on the field a matter of seconds after a lengthy absence with a cut to his head, fired out a flat pass on the left and Tyrer hit the ball at pace to cross for his side’s seventh try of the game.