Bulls v Fax: Marshall’s youngsters undermined by errors in Odsal friendly

editorial image

Halifax’s pre-season programme began with a very young side slipping to a 22-6 Boxing Day loss to League 1 neighbours Bradford in the freezing murk of Odsal.

Both coaches fielded teams blending youth and proven ability, although John Kear’s Bulls had a definitive edge in experience, with the likes of Steve Crossley, Elliot Minchella, Lee Smith, Ashley Gibson and Matt Garside all playing significant minutes in key positions.

Richard Marshall’s Fax’s had a solid spine, courtesy of James Woodburn-Hall at full back, Ben Johnston at half back, Brandon Moore at hooker and Jacob Fairbank at loose forward, but would otherwise have been largely unfamiliar to casual observers, with nine players on debut and a further four with only one appearance behind them.

And that difference in experience was a telling factor as the enthusiastic visitors gradually found themselves overwhelmed by the sheer weight of possession against them, largely a result of their own errors, misjudgements and a 10-4 penalty count.

Consequently, while Fax will have been content with their energy and structure in defence, it will be difficult for Marshall to draw too many conclusions about his side’s work with the ball, largely because they simply didn’t spend enough time with it in their hands.

Moore and Fairbank both made predictably strong contributions early on, but by half time Marshall had withdrawn the handful of players who might reasonably expect to start the first league game and the Bulls gradually assumed complete control.

Nevertheless, Fax had taken an early lead in the third minute; Johnston and Moore shipped the ball to the left and Woodburn-Hall chimed into the line, only to be held just short of the whitewash.

The damage was done though and on the next play Morris, the younger brother of Championship regular Elliot, burst through to score.

Woodburn-Hall converted for a 6-0 lead and a typical winter arm wrestle ensued, with neither side really hinting at domination during a dour opening quarter.

Gradually though, Fax’s error count began to climb, inviting Bradford on to their line at regular intervals.

The Bulls had already gone close to scoring through Minchella by the time Liam Kirk finally broke an enthusiastic defence to touchdown with 28 minutes on the clock, Smith adding the conversion to level the scores.

Fax twice made some space down the right through the skills of teenage half back Morgan Punchard, but neither chance yielded points.

And it was the Bulls who had the last word just before the break, Minchella scoring from a short kick and Smith kicking the home side into a 12-6 interval lead.

The introduction of half back Adam Brook, a King Cross junior who began his career with the Bulls before moving on to Keighley, sparked Fax up in the early minutes of the second half, but, typically, an error put the Bulls back on the front foot and winger Dalton Grant touched down in the corner.

The conversion drifted wide and while the 16-6 scoreline was not mathematically decisive, it was a deficit that Fax never really looked like clawing back.

Minchella scored his second with 16 minutes remaining, young Rowan Milnes converting, and that was that as the game petered out in the gloom.

Bradford: Pickersgill; Rickett, Johnson, Gibson, Oakes; Smith, Minchella; Crossley, Halafihi, Wood, Garside, Hodgson, Hallas. Subs: Kirk, Grant, Butterworth, Peltier, Goodall, King, Milnes

Halifax: Woodburn-Hall; Heaton, Butler, Syme, McGrath; Punchard, Johnston; F. Morris, Moore, Jack Fairbank, Connor Davies, Calcott, Jacob Fairbank. Subs: Jones, Curtis Davies, Cullimore, Dewhirst, Stringer, Morgan, Brook