Halifax Panthers show character to produce stunning fightback in victory at Barrow

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​Halifax Panthers produced a stunning fightback to claim valuable Betfred Championship points as they won 38-28 on their long travel to play Barrow Raiders.

The home side appeared to be coasting home when 28-12 ahead 15 minutes into the second half, but Liam Finn’s men turned the game on its head with a superb closing quarter in which they completely dominated to run in 26 unanswered points.

What turned out to be a remarkable game was closely contested initially before Barrow took their firm grip early in the second half then lost their way completely.

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The Raiders had claimed the scalps of Batley and Featherstone in their previous two home games and were off to another flying start when Luke Broadbent’s floating pass sent Andrew Bulman over for the first try.

James Saltonstall scored twice at Barrow to take his tally up to 100 career tries for Halifax Panthers. Picture: Simon HallJames Saltonstall scored twice at Barrow to take his tally up to 100 career tries for Halifax Panthers. Picture: Simon Hall
James Saltonstall scored twice at Barrow to take his tally up to 100 career tries for Halifax Panthers. Picture: Simon Hall

But their latest visitors from Yorkshire showed they were not going to roll over as they moved the ball wide where Ben Tibbs was able to fend off two defenders to get the ball down in the corner. Louis Jouffret adding the touchline goal and they were 6-4 up.

Barrow responded and went close twice before the Panthers struck again as skipper Joe Keyes dummied his way into space then rounded the full-back for a try converted by Jouffret.

The hosts successfully hit back this time with Broadbent and Jacob Douglas combining to send Luke Cresswell over. Ryan Johnston tagged on the extras.

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Within five minutes they were in again as Cresswell outjumped James Woodburn-Hall following a Johnston high kick and got the ball down over the line.

Johnston converted then added a penalty goal for offside to make it 18-12 and that was how it stayed up to the break, although Halifax went close to adding to their points when strong pressure saw Zack McComb and Woodburn-Hall both going close.

The Panthers appeared to be paying for their first half exertions when they conceded two tries in the first 10 minutes of the second half.

First Matt Costello took Johnston’s pass to charge over then Cresswell completed his hat-trick. With Johnston converting both tries it was suddenly 28-12 – and to make matters worse Halifax had to play without Gareth Widdop for 10 minutes after he was sin-binned for something he said to the referee.

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However, they made light of the man disadvantage as they battled their way back into the match.

The game turned completely on its head after a last tackle play on 55 minutes saw Keyes send out a long ball for James Saltonstall to dive in at the corner for his 99th try for the club.

Keyes took over the kicking duties and landed a superb touchline goal to reduce the deficit to 10 points.

Saltonstall did not have long to wait for his 100th try as four minutes later he was over in the corner following good work by Keyes and Woodburn-Hall.

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Keyes was unable to convert this time, but the momentum was all with the Panthers now and 12 minutes from time Widdop’s long ball sent Woodburn-Hall through a gap to score another unconverted try.

Barrow were unable to respond and the visitors were ahead when Zack McComb went on a fantastic run, carrying from deep to power his way through several defenders to get the ball down over the line. Widdop’s goal made it 32-28 with three minutes remaining.

Barrow won the ball from the restart and launched a last attempt to snatch victory after all. But Broadbent’s attempted pass to Douglas was intercepted by Saltonstall.

Halifax then went on their last attack and Keyes threw a dummy before powering his way through a hole in the home defence for the final try to spark wild scenes of celebration.

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Widdop’s goal rounded off the scoring in a memorable encounter with the victory lifting Halifax to within four points of a top six place in the Championship.

"We could have done a lot of things better, but ultimately to show that character to come back and win makes everybody happy,” said head coach Finn.

"We were despondent obviously going 16 points down and we showed some character just to stay in the fight at that point. Then to come back and win it is jubilation.

"It’s a tough competition to win games in and it’s a tough place to come. We’re happy to win, but we’ve got loads of improvement in us.

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"It wasn’t pretty, far from it, it was more based on character in the end.

"In the final 20 minutes we made it really simple. We carried the ball hard, worked hard off the ball and pushed for each other.

“We defended like our lives depended on it, especially that couple of sets on the tryline at the end and it was massively important to nick the two points in the end.”