Road to Wembley: How Halifax Panthers booked a return to the national stadium for the first time in 35 years for the 1895 Cup final
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From defeating the Championship and 1895 Cup favourites Featherstone Rovers to thrashing fierce rivals Bradford Bulls, as well as entertaining the mighty St Helens at The Shay, the Panthers have experienced an enthralling road to the national stadium, which culminates in an enticing West Yorkshire derby clash with Wembley first-timers, Batley Bulldogs.
It all started on Sunday, March 12, when Fax travelled to Fev for a third round Challenge Cup tie, looking to avoid a) a second defeat at the Millennium Stadium in the space of five days having lost to the early Championship pace-setters in the league in round two, and b) being dumped out of the prestigious competition by Rovers for the second successive season.
However, tries from Matty Gee, Lachlan Walmsley, Tom Inman and the impressive Louis Jouffret, who used to play for Fev, secured a dramatic 22-18 victory, which set up a fourth round clash at home to Barrow Raiders.
The Cumbrians had tasted the sweetness of two points - their first set of the season - the week before to stun Fax 16-12. But Simon Grix’s men were able to gain instant revenge at The Shay thanks to tries from James Saltonstall (2), Jake Maizen, Jouffret and Eribe Doro.
It was a massive win, for it set up a shoot-out at The Shay between Halifax and Bradford as to who would progress to the 1895 Cup semi-finals.
It was a non-contest. Fax overwhelmed the Bulls, with Jouffret, scorer of two tries, influential throughout. Salthonstall bagged another double, while Maizen also scored, as the Panthers secured the bragging rights with an immensely comfortable 26-0 win.
Batley, York and London Broncos made up the quartet of Championship clubs through to the sixth round of the Challenge Cup - but it was Halifax who received the plumiest of plum ties. St Helens at home.
Nearly 5,000 people flocked to The Shay to see Fax take on the world club champions - who they famously beat 19-18 in the 1987 final at Wembley. There was no shock this time around, as a near full-strength Saints outfit produced a professional performance to race into a 26-0 lead. Jack Welsby, in particular, was a joy to watch.
However, Grix’s men were by no means overawed and - thanks to Jacob Fairbank - scored a first try against St Helens since July 2002.
Out of the Challenge Cup, maybe, but they were still in with a chance of that elusive appearance at the national stadium for the first time since 1988.
The draw for the semi-finals of the 1895 Cup did not take place until after the quarter-finals of the Challenge Cup, in which York City Knights were the Championship’s only representative.
Fax were drawn away at the in-form Broncos, possibly, on paper, the toughest assignment they could have been handed. But they handled it perfectly.
It was finely poised, 0-0, at the break but two kicks from the trusted book of Jouffret and a trademark solo try from Walmsley, converted by the Frenchman, put the Panthers in control.
And although there were nerves after a late Marcus Stock try, Halifax were able to celebrate a return to Wembley after 35 years.