Last-gasp Louis Jouffret drop goal seals thrilling victory for Halifax Panthers at Keighley Cougars to keep play-off hopes alive

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Louis Jouffret scored a dramatic drop goal to seal a thrilling 23-22 victory for Halifax Panthers at relegation-threatened Keighley Cougars to keep their play-off hopes alive.

In a topsy-turvy, high-octane, end-to-end encounter, Fax had to fight back from 8-0 down to get in front, only for a persistent Keighley outfit to keep pegging them back.

And that’s exactly what they did with five minutes remaining when Mark Ioane’s converted try got the score level at 22-22. But Jouffret kept his composure with ball in hand to foot to secure a memorable win which, just like last weekend after the triumph over Toulouse, put them into sixth.

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However, like last week, it may only be temporary depending on Batley Bulldogs’ result at York Knights tomorrow (Monday) evening. If the Bulldogs fail to win, Fax’s promotion hopes will remain in their own hands at home to Swinton Lions at The Shay next Sunday.

Cougar Park, home of Keighley CougarsCougar Park, home of Keighley Cougars
Cougar Park, home of Keighley Cougars

Simon Grix, who made just the one change to the side which splendidly beat second placed Toulouse last Saturday, with Dan Murray replacing Will Calcott, insisted his side would be throwing the kitchen sink in their last-ditch attempt to secure a play-off spot.

But Keighley are in their own battle in the Championship, albeit at the other end as they strive to avoid relegation back to League 1 following their promotion last season. And they provided their fans with the perfect start as Mo Agoro dived over the line inside the opening 80 seconds.

The Panthers seemed shell shocked and unable to exit their own half as the Cougars were getting the upper hand in the battle of the big cats.

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And their constant pressure was rewarded with a second try on ten minutes, with Agoro doubling his tally. It was a carbon copy of his first, as Keighley moved the ball neatly from left to right, with the winger proving too strong for Walmsley.

Oscar Thomas missed both conversions but the home side thoroughly deserved their 8-0 lead.

However, the try-scoring-hero had to be replaced by Kieran Rush after seemingly hurting himself when touching down to extend Keighley’s lead.

That meant the individual battle between Agoro and Walmsley couldn’t continue, but the Fax winger took full advantage of his absence after 18 minutes, receiving a wonderful offload from former Keighley man Ben Crooks to score a trademark try, diving into the corner for his 33rd try of the season.

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Fax now had the momentum and they hit the front for the first time when Alex Sutcliffe went over, despite suspiciously looking to knock on.

However, an illegal ball steal allowed Oscar Thomas to go for goal from the halfway line just before the hooter to level the score at half-time, 10-10.

Fax started the second half just like Keighley did in the first, on the front foot. And they were rewarded when Walmsley made it try number 34 in the league as the Panthers restored their lead, although Jouffret missed a difficult conversion.

Kieran Rush thought he was over the home side but he was denied by the referee before a Jouffret penalty put Fax six points in front.

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However, Charlie Graham scored in the corner and they were level again when Thomas knocked over a penalty.

But Grix, in the build-up, had insisted that his side’s ‘why’ had to be more emphatic than Keighley’s, and they looked to have scored the game’s-defining try with 20 minutes left when James Saltonstall and James Woodburn-Hall broke at pace through the centre to carve the Cougars open, with the latter steaming through for a sensational try.

Jouffret’s boot made it 22-16 and Fax just had to see the game out. That isn’t as easy as it sounds, as Ioane proved too strong and powerful for Grix’s men, as he barged over to the delight of the home crowd. It was expertly converted too by Thomas.

As the clock ticked down to Fax’s second draw of the season, it seemed as if their play-off dreams could be scuppered. But up stepped Jouffret who nailed a drop goal with seconds remaining to secure a dramatic win to lift them into the play-off spots. All Fax eyes will now be on Batley Bulldogs’ televised game at York Knights tomorrow evening.

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Keighley: Young, Agoro, Storey, Sa’u, Graham, Spence, Thomas, Ioane, Gaylor, Kesik, Robson, Adebiyi, Trout

Interchanges: Rush, Walker, Lynam, Bibby

Tries: Agoro (2), Graham, Ioane

Conversions: Thomas

Penalties: Thomas (2)

Halifax: Woodburn-Hall, Walmsley, McComb, Crooks, Saltonstall, Jouffret, Keyes, Murray, Moore, Larroyer, Kavanagh, Gee, Fairbank.

Interchanges: Inman, Tangata, Lannon, Sutcliffe

Tries: Walmsley (2), Sutcliffe, Woodburn-Hall

Conversions: Jouffret (2)

Penalties: Jouffret