HALIFAX made a winning, but distinctly untidy, start to their Northern Rail Cup campaign, edging out Swinton in a rollercoaster game at the Willows.
Matt Calland’s Co-operative Championship champions trailed 16-14 at the break and 22-20 midway through the second half before late tries from centre Lee Paterson and prop Sam Barlow sealed victory.
For Fax, it was a win that is likely to prove crucial for their qualification hopes, although the manner in which it was achieved is likely to give Calland and his coaching team plenty of food for thought over the next few days.
The visitors, who debuted a natty black and green away kit, went for mobility up front, with Sam Barlow moving up to prop alongside Jim Gannon and three propable back rowers - Joe Chandler, Josh Barlow and Jacob Fairbank - joining Sean Penkywicz on the bench.
That left Fax favouring fitness and footwork over sheer bulk, and it worked from the off, with Calland’s side playing noticeably quicker than their opponents.
And it took them just five minutes to make an impact on the scoreboard, James Haley scoring on the right after Danny Jones’ stabbed kick and Ben Black’s quick hands created the chance.
Lee Paterson, who had failed to kick a goal in pre season, flashed a difficult conversion inches wide and was lining up a second attempt inside two minutes when Black flashed a long, high pass out to White and the wingman, who top scored in the old National League One during a stellar season with Salford in 2008, applied a flying finish in the left hand corner.
This time Paterson was on target from the touchline and Fax almost added a third when Black sliced through before stumbling as he attempted to beat the last defender.
White was unlucky to be called back after racing clear from a loose Swinton pass and Worrincy should have done better after Miles Greenwood created space on the right as Fax dominated the opening quarter.
Swinton were hardly helped by the 20th minute sin binning of centre Dean Thompson, for the umpteenth holding down offence, although referee Robert Hicks - playing the RFL’s latest quick-play-the-ball edict to the letter - soon evened up the numbers by dispatching Paterson for 10 minutes for holding down stand off Martin Ainscough.
The Lions took immediate advantage of the subsequent possession, winger Rob Foxen scrambling over in the corner, but Black was desperately unlucky not to score after racing onto Jones’ cross kick, the full back hauling him down inches short.
Fax struck again on 34 minutes, with a classic midfield attack; darting runs from Worrincy, White and Greenwood got the Lions back pedalling, Sean Penkywicz found a charging James Haley and the centre sent Worrincy over in the corner.
At 14-4, Fax were poised to take command, but three minutes before the interval Swinton were over again, Ian Watson’s last tackle kick pounced on by Mark Smith, with Gavin Dodd adding the extras.
And, almost unbelievably after that one-sided opening 20 minutes, the Lions then hit the front; Thompson producing a one handed put down on the last play of the half and Dodd kicking the conversion for a 16-14 half time lead.
Swinton had the first decent chance after the break too, Richard Flooks hauled into touch after Greenwood had done well to chase down runaway prop Mike Morrison.
Black and White carved Swinton open soon after, but the Lions were defending with real resolve and attacking with vigour as the game finally got up to temperature.
Fax eventually regained the lead when Jones sent Paterson cutting through to score by the posts, the centre adding the extras for 20-16.
But an optimistic pass from Black on his own 10 metre line gave the Lions the possession again and they made their visitors pay, Watson sending prop Neil Holland rumbling over and Dodd putting them in front again at 22-20.
Fax hit back almost immediately, Black atoning with a burst down the left and Paterson applying a fine finish for his second score of the night.
The conversion went wide, leaving Fax leading 24-22 with 13 minutes to go, a lead that looked far from matchwinning at that stage.
Swinton piled on the pressure, and there was a fleeting moment when they thought they had snatched it - full back Ian Mort touching down from a blatantly offside position - before Fax finally made sure, Sam Barlow scoring in the final seconds to seal victory.