Harris hat-trick seals 'big win' for Halifax Panthers at Batley Bulldogs

A personal haul of 18 points from Liam Harris helped Halifax Panthers to success in the Betfred Championship as they saw off hosts Batley Bulldogs 22-12.
Halifax Panthers players celebrate.Halifax Panthers players celebrate.
Halifax Panthers players celebrate.

Harris, a close season signing from Super League outfit Hull FC, contributed three tries and three conversions to round off a man of the match performance.

"First half we were quite poor and we definitely didn't complete well," said Panthers boss Simon Grix "We gave them a lot of ball and invited a lot of pressure but to come back after all that and be the better team in the second half, I thought it showed some real togetherness."

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It was an attritional affair early on as both sides used their big men to great effect in the middle of the field. But it was the hosts who would break the deadlock in the sixth minute. Luke Hooley knocked over an early penalty after Larroyer was pinged for a high shot.

The Bulldogs threatened to extend their lead further after multiple infringements led to referee Ben Thaler awarding several Batley penalties to help them climb the famous slope. But some resolute defensive efforts and solid goalline scramble shut down any chances they created.

And Fax would hit back to take the lead themselves in the 17th minute. Good carries from Larroyer and Worthington set up the field position as Panthers asked questions of the Batley right edge. Harris left the Bulldogs defending guessing, dummying through and sidestepping the full back for the opening try of the game. The Panthers number six on target with the boot for a 6-2 lead.

An injury to Conor McGrath, who was forced from the field for the remainder of the contest after he was knocked out cold, meant Simon Grix had to reshuffle his backline without his two first choice wingers on the field. And the hosts capitalised on a momentary break in communication as Tom Lilleycrop took a short ball at the line to crash over. Hooley converting for an 8-6 scoreline.

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And it soon went from bad to worse for the men in blue and white. Amir Bourouh saw yellow for a late hit on Tom Gilmore as he kicked from deep, and once again the Bulldogs decided to go for goal. Hooley slotting over the two points, 10-6 at half time.

It was a classic tale of two halves though, as Panthers came out reinvigorated after the break and were arguably the better side for long periods. But they couldn't turn possession into points as discipline continued to be an issue. Hooley knocked over another two-point penalty and that's the way it would stay for the majority of the second half.

As the clock wound down, both sides continued to show full commitment in attack and defence, as a bumper crowd was treated to a passionate yet nervy display of rugby league. It would take something special to break down a determined Bulldogs line.

It came in the 64th minute, as Grix and Woodburn-Hall linked up well on the left, the Jamaican international dummying his way through to dive over in the corner and cut the gap to just two points, giving his side a late lifeline.

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Approaching the final ten, step forward the aforementioned man of the match. On the last tackle, Liam Harris feigned the kick wide and grubbered through for himself. It pinballed around and fell perfectly for a kick on, collect and touch down; his second of the afternoon. The conversion putting Panthers ahead by four with six minutes to play.

Now it was Batley who had to chase the game, but Fax stood tall in defence, and finally landed the killer blow. Harris picked the pocket of the man he replaced, Tom Gilmore, to intercept and race away under the posts to seal the game and send the travelling army of fans home happy.

"It's definitely our best win of the year", said Grix at full time. "To come to Batley, who have been riding a bit of a wave themselves, I think it's a big two points for us."