Halifax Panthers into play-off spots after spectacularly defeating Toulouse
Tries from James Saltonstall, James Woodburn-Hall, Ben Kavanagh and Lachlan Walmsley helped Fax to what could turn out to be a season-defining win, in their 150th year, as they, temporarily, went above Widnes Vikings and Batley Bulldogs into that all-important sixth spot.
Arguably the busiest people at The Shay on this Super Saturday were the ground staff who ensured the quickest of turnarounds to get the pitch ready following FC Halifax Town’s 1-1 draw with Southend United at lunchtime.
Basked in glorious sunshine, you could have been forgiven for thinking the ground staff had worked miracles and transported The Shay to the south of France.
The Panthers had started the day in eighth place, two places and one point outside of the play-offs, and knowing, therefore, that only a win against Toulouse - who have already guaranteed second spot and a home semi-final - would do in their own promotion push.
Toulouse’s league position could have left onlookers to believe their players were in holiday-mode on this trip to West Yorkshire, to save themselves for the play-offs. However, those naive thoughts were banished with barely two minutes on the clock.
They came into this came on the back of six successive victories and after Robin Brochon danced merrily through a static Halifax defence to open the scoring, you felt like it could be a long evening for the home side.
However, buoyed by last Sunday’s 30-8 success at Whitehaven which kept them within touching distance of the precious play-off spots, Simon Grix’s men showed character, desire and heart to get back into what turned out to be an engrossing contest.
Having forced Toulouse to defend their own line, Fax were purposeful and moved the ball swiftly to the right but Saltonstall was held up on the line by three visiting players.
However, if at first you don’t succeed, give it back to Saltonstall and he’ll score a try again. And that’s exactly what the Panthers did. It was a carbon copy of his earlier attempt as his team-mates, yet again, worked it well from left to right, and the winger did the rest, stretching out an arm in the corner to get Fax on the board.
Louis Jouffret, who converted all five tries in Cumbria last weekend, was narrowly off target with his first attempt of the evening as Toulouse led 6-4 after only ten minutes.
The action returned to the other end with Zachary Santo breaking free but he was thwarted by a combination of the excellent Woodburn-Hall and Walmsley.
They couldn’t keep them out for long. On the very next set, in fact, Pierre-Jean Lima spotted a gap and crashed over from close range to extend the visitors’ lead. It came with controversy though as the Fax players were adamant the second-rower was held up on the line.
Toulouse seemed rampant. But that was as good as it got for the French side in the first half as the Panthers responded valiantly, nearly scoring what would have been a brilliant try. Ben Crooks and Walmsley broke away at speed, with the winger kicking low for the onrushing Woodburn-Hall. The full-back kicked the moving ball towards the try line but couldn’t get a hand to the loose ball before it was knocked to safety by a visiting defender.
Like Saltonstall, however, Woodburn-Hall didn’t have to wait long for his try as he went over on the left after a Halifax scrum.
Jouffret’s conversion made it 10-12 and his trusted boot was required five minutes before the half time hooter for a penalty after Joe Keyes, in only his third game back from injury, was taken out after a high kick.
Fax ended the half on level terms, although they were a whisker away from the score being 13-12 but Jouffret’s speculative drop goal on the hooter sailed wide. Nevertheless, the team talk for Grix will have been an easy one as his side ended the half the stronger.
And they started the second 40 like they finished the first and, after another dominating spell, they hit the front in the match for the very first time on 48 minutes thanks to Kavanagh. The try was all about Woodburn-Hall though who broke through the defence and showed great alertness and awareness to see the second-rower steaming on his inside. Kavanagh did the rest as The Shay erupted.
Jouffret converted and, not long after, made it a two-score game by knocking over a penalty following an illegal ball steal.
With 30 minutes remaining, and 20-12 points up, Fax were flourishing and nearly scored another wondrous try through Saltonstall after a move involving six of his team-mates but the final pass into the winger gave him too much work to do.
Toulouse, who have lost away games at fellow promotion contenders Bradford Bulls, Sheffield Eagles, Batley Bulldogs and London Broncos this season, were not done with adding Halifax Panthers onto this list.
And they got back into the game out of absolutely nothing, with Zachary Santo gliding over after a quick-fire breakaway. Jake Shorrocks made it three from three as Toulouse edged to within two points.
But after a short kick-off went wrong, Fax managed to keep possession and went straight to the other end and restored their eight-point advantage. Jouffret was the orchestrator finding Crooks, who in turn found Walmsley and the division’s top try scorer went over in front of a jubilant South Stand. Jouffret added the extras.
It was no more than Fax deserved and when the final hooter sounded, The Shay erupted again as the Panthers, temporarily at least, jumped into that final play-off space ahead of Widnes and Batley, with those sides in action on Sunday.
Halifax: Woodburn-Hall, Walmsley, McComb, Crooks, Saltonstall, Jouffret, Keyes, Calcott, Moore, Larroyer, Kavanagh, Gee, Fairbank.
Interchanges: Inman, Tangata, Lannon, Sutcliffe
Tries: Saltonstall, Woodburn-Hall, Kavanagh, Walmsley
Conversions: Jouffret (3)
Penalties: Jouffret (2)
Toulouse: Santo, Marcon, M Laguerre, Armitage, B Laguerre, Brochon, Shorrocks, Hansen, Gahan, Belmas, Lima, Stefani, Marion
Interchanges: Pelissier, Silva, Skoundri, Peyroux
Tries: Brochon, Lima, Santo
Conversions: Shorrocks (3)
Referee: Marcus Griffiths