Halifax Panthers’ play-off dreams crushed by superb Swinton Lions
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A second half double from Lachlan Walmsley to add to Ben Crooks’ early try wasn’t enough to seal Fax’s place in the top six, as Swinton deservedly won 22-12 to retain their Championship status on a nervy afternoon at The Shay.
The calculation was fairly straightforward for Fax ahead of kick-off. Avoid defeat and their place in the end-of-season knock-out competition for the chance to reach Super League would be confirmed at the expense of Batley Bulldogs and York Knights.
A Swinton win, however, would not only crush the Panthers play-off dreams, but the Lions would be able to sleep easy tonight, securing another year in the second tier after being involved in the tightest of relegation battles with Whitehaven and Keighley Cougars, who suffered defeats over the course of the weekend.
The scene set, it was all to play for at The Shay. Simon Grix, who made two changes to the 13 who started last weekend’s last-gasp win at Keighley, had insisted he didn’t mind if it was an ugly or pretty victory over Swinton. He probably would have taken more late drama over comfort, as long as his side gained the two priceless points on offer.
As it turned out, it looked like a routine stroll in the park for the Panthers after Crooks went over after only five minutes. But the Lions roared back in splendid fashion to open up an 18-4 advantage at the break and, when Rhodri Lloyd went over immediately after Walmsley’s first at the start of the second half, there was to be no late drama as Fax’s season ended prematurely.
Crooks’ fifth minute try came after great work by Joe Keyes and James Woodburn-Hall down the left. Louis Jouffret, composed in front of the sticks with 90 seconds remaining last week at Cougar Park, couldn’t convert a tough kick from the far side.
It was a bright start from the Panthers but they couldn’t back it up as Swinton, slowly but surely, deservedly got back into the contest.
Fax had to defend set after set and Swinton’s pressure resulted in a Jordan Gibson grubber kick being pounced on by Mitchell Cox for his first try of the season. What a time to get it. Daniel Abram converted and they were ahead. And, more importantly, they were safe. That position would not alter throughout the afternoon.
Having waited all season for his first try, Cox went over for his second to silence The Shay.
It went from bad to worse for Fax when Nicholas Gregson spotted a gap in a static Halifax defence which, when converted, took the half-time score to 18-4.
The desire to stay in the league was overwhelming the desire to get out of it. Fax had it all to do in the second 40.
But the Panthers’ desire was strong at the start of the second half, as they managed to pin Swinton in their own ten metres. And the pressure was rewarded with Walmsley’s 35th try of the season. It was a crucial one too, assisted by the lively Joe Keyes and Ben Kavanagh.
But Swinton, crucially, hit back straight away to, seemingly, put Fax’s fire out, with Lloyd going over.
Walmsley, who scored four tries in the 46-8 win at Swinton earlier this season, popped up on the right to finish the season with 36 Championship tries. Jouffret, who has kicked 63 goals this season, was unable to make any of his three conversion attempts.
There were 17 minutes remaining. Hope restored? Not quite, as Swinton, already safe by this point, defended magnificently to thwart Fax, whose season was ending with a whimper.
As the final hooter sounded, seconds after Crooks was helped off the field, the Fax players, dejected, slumped to their knees, as the Lions celebrated wildly with their fans in the South Stand.
York, having beaten Barrow, leapfrogged both Fax and Batley to secure sixth place.
Halifax: Woodburn-Hall, Walmsley, Crooks, McComb, Saltonstall, Jouffret, Keyes, Tangata, Kavanagh, Gee, Murray, Moore, Calcott
Interchanges: Inman, Larroyer, Lannon, Sutcliffe
Tries: Crooks, Walmsley (2)
Swinton: Abram, Lepori, Badrock, Lloyd, Romeo, Butterworth, Gibson, Bennion, Hall, Brogan, Cox, Foster, Gregson
Interchanges: Lowe, Case, Baker, Rodden
Tries: Cox (2), Gregson
Conversions: Abram (3)
Match official: Matthew Rossleigh