Halifax Panthers chairman Dave Grayson hopes the club's 150th anniversary script will have a fairytale ending at Wembley

It is a story many would have wished for, yet few could have actually predicted.
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2023, the 150th year of Halifax RLFC, culminating with the Panthers reaching a wonderful Wembley final for the first time since 1988. Who writes these scripts?

An optimist might even say there’s room for a Grand Final appearance as well. And don’t forget the visit of the world club champions to The Shay in May.

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With plans of a movie and a book to commemorate this special anniversary, both due to be released later in the year, the directors and authors involved may need extra film and plenty more pages to cram these past few months’ memorable events into their final works of art.

Halifax Panthers chairman Dave GraysonHalifax Panthers chairman Dave Grayson
Halifax Panthers chairman Dave Grayson

“It is like a fairytale,” admitted Fax chairman, and boyhood fan, Dave Grayson, who has been in charge since last October’s takeover of the club.

“I dreamt it but I couldn’t say it was ever going to happen.”

And while club historian Andrew Hardcastle, who is writing the book, and documentary-maker James Mellor, of Rainbow Trout Films Ltd, will be hoping for a fairytale ending after 80 minutes at Wembley, Grayson just wants everyone involved with the Panthers to “enjoy the moment”.

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He said: “After the London game I sent a message to all the shareholders and the board just to thank them for their efforts and to be proud that within 12 months we have already established a team that has broken that 35-year hoodoo of not appearing at Wembley and take credit for that and enjoy the time and enjoy the moment.

Halifax Panthers players celebrate scoring a try against St Helens in the Challenge CupHalifax Panthers players celebrate scoring a try against St Helens in the Challenge Cup
Halifax Panthers players celebrate scoring a try against St Helens in the Challenge Cup

“It is a testament to the whole Halifax family.

"I am very proud of how much everybody has done, how hard they have worked and what they have achieved. The London game epitomised that. And what a reward.”

And Grayson points to the visit of St Helens in the Challenge Cup as the catalyst to what has materialised since.

“I think it all started with the St Helens game,” he admitted.

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“That was a special night and we showed the good side of Halifax of what we can do, on the field and off it.

"We got some good testimonials back from the RFL about that night. There was a real buzz, even though we lost.

"We have kicked on from that and hopefully there is more to come. We have had some special times this year and hopefully there will be more in the future.”

Fax’s day at Wembley, 35 years since their appearance in a Challenge Cup final defeat against Wigan, is made even more unique in that their opponents in the 1895 Cup final, Batley, are venturing into their first ever Wembley final in their 143-year history.

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On the prospect of facing the Bulldogs, who convincingly beat Fax 42-0 last month, Grayson said: “I sent Kevin Nicholas (Batley chairman) a message saying, ‘Congratulations’ and that it was well deserved.

"They are a good team. They didn’t finish in the Grand Final last year for nothing and they have been flirting with second and third all season.

“We got a lesson in rugby at Mount Pleasant. We have some wrongs to right there.

"There will be no easier team talk for Simon on the day than that particular result. We are a better team than that. But Batley played very well on the day and they are well coached.

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“ I am looking forward to our players playing on that nice big wide pitch at Wembley as opposed to the uphill and downhill pitch at Mount Pleasant. It will be a different type of game.

“As long as we do the blue and white shirt proud, that will do for me as chairman, but of course, we would love to win.”

Asked what he would say to Simon Grix’s men as a final message, Grayson responded: “Enjoy your rugby. That is always my last line to players.

"Your career’s short. I played in a couple of finals, not at this level, but it goes really quickly.

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"They need to enjoy that moment, all the build-up, the family being there, the fans there, everybody involved with the club but when you’re on the field, focus for that 80 minutes.

“As long as you give your best, that is good enough for me.

"I think we have some class in that team. It will be an interesting rugby game.

"They have got a good pack and play a simple game and don’t make many mistakes. We will have to match them with that and, if we do, I think we have got some class in that back line that can cause them some problems.”

Fax’s fairytale season follows on from the town’s football team’s exceptional FA Trophy final in May, making it a “unique” Wembley double.

“How many other clubs have done that?” asked Grayson.

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“It’s quite a unique thing to have your different sports teams at Wembley in the same year.

“I am a Halifax man through and through. I was born here and I have never left the town. To see both clubs do it in the same year is unbelievable.”

For Fax to actually go on and clinch the 1895 Cup, will provide the happiest of fairytale endings in the club’s special anniversary year.