HALIFAX boss Matt Calland hailed his “magnificent” Northern Rail Cup heroes after Danny Jones’ golden point drop goal clinched a sensational 31-30 semi final win at Featherstone last night.
Jones, who had been instrumental as Fax clawed their way back from 16-4 down against a red-hot Rovers side, coolly hit the winning one-point to break a 30-30 deadlock and send Calland’s side through to the final at Blackpool’s Bloomfield Road on July 17.
“I just thought it was a magnificent win,” enthused Calland, who was joined on the Post Office Road gantry by his mentor, the ex-Great Britain coach Brian Noble.
“What a team: Everyone wrote us off earlier in the year but we have come from nowhere in the last six weeks.
“I thought Featherstone were fantastic, but we just pipped them at the end.
“We were really under the pump in the first half and we did really well to fight back because I thought they could have been further in front.
“But we had unfinished business with this competition.
“It was a major goal because of what happened last season in the group stages and what happened with Ben Black dropping that ball in the 2009 semi final against Widnes.
“I am pleased for the club and the players, I’m really chuffed for them.
“We can’t wait now.”
Calland, who sprang a surprise by naming injured captain Sean Penkywicz on the bench – just two days after saying his star hooker had “no chance” of playing because of a broken toe – believes the experience of winning last September’s Championship decider in the same way, and against the same opponents, had also been crucial.
“I told the players on the pitch ‘We have been here before’ and I think we handled it better,” said Calland, who had a heated discussion with match official Gareth Hewer after Rovers won the toss for extra time and opted to receive the ball coming down the ground’s infamous slope.
“The referee said the rule had changed and that they could decide whether to kick or receive and decide which direction they wanted to play in.
“To have to kick off to them and have them coming down the slope in extra time, you’d think you were up against it, but the boys have worked so hard and it’s paid off for them.
“The last thing we did at training was practice setting up for a field goal, because we thought it would be close, and it’s paid off for us.
“We had talked about building pressure if we were too far out rather than going for the drop goal, so we ran it and got the repeat set.
“With Penkywicz, I always wanted to play him, whether he was 100 per cent fit or not.
“It was a gamble, and sometimes they pay off and sometimes they don’t.
“This time it did.”