Halifax will have back rower Alex Foster and Grand Final winger Jy Hitchcox in their side for Sunday’s Championship opener at Featherstone (3.0) as boss Richard Marshall makes instant use of the new dual-registration link with Castleford Tigers.
Foster, who played 19 games as Cas topped the Super League table in 2017, will plug the gap created by the absence of Shane Grady, who is still recovering from close-season surgery.
Hitchcox, an Australian who played NRL for Wests Tigers, scored three tries in nine appearances for Daryl Powell’s side last season and looks likely to deprive either Ben Heaton or James Saltonstall of a place on the flanks.
To add spice to the contest, both players, who will be joined in Fax’s 17 by Wheldon Road teammates and season-long loanees Brandon Douglas and Will Maher, have both had previous spells with Featherstone.
“They’ll both add something to the team,” said Fax boss Richard Marshall, who said his side’s uncertain pre-season form, which saw them lose all three friendly fixtures, including one against Rovers, had prompted him to make the most of the offer of potential reinforcements.
“Foster is a tough, tough player who can play in the middle or the back row and just gets his work done.
“He was keen to come and play; he made contact with me as soon as he knew he was coming, which I liked.
“Hitchcox’s last competitive game was in the Grand Final, he’s a very good finisher, he can play wing or full back and he’s got some speed.
“I think he’s also looking forward to playing against Featherstone.
“There will be players missing out because of those two coming in, but that’s a reflection of our performances in pre-season; people haven’t done enough.
“There are some players who will be genuinely unlucky to miss out this weekend - lads like Sion Jones, who are so close to selection - but on pre-season form some of the others are either lucky to be involved or they’re getting what they’ve deserved, which is not getting picked.
“Featherstone are a team in form. They’ve won their pre-season games and they’ll be very confident.
“We’ve not played our strongest team yet, but we will be close to it on Sunday.
“We’ve not started well since I’ve been here, really. Three years ago we put 50 on Whitehaven, but we’ve done nothing since then.
“We know it’s how you finish the season that counts, not how you start it, but it would be nice to improve on that on Sunday.”
Featherstone will have a Castleford player of their own on duty, the prop Mitch Clark, who has joined them on a month’s loan, while two more Tigers, the former Sheffield duo Garry Lo and Cory Aston, have rejoined the Eagles for a month.
“I’m fine with that,” said Marshall.
“We were offered Mitch Clark for a month, but we didn’t want to tie up another loan spot at this stage.
“It’s business; I’m happy with the players we have.”
The rest of Fax’s selection will have a familiar look, with Will Sharp at full back, Steve Tyrer and James Woodburn-Hall in the centres and Ben Johnston and Scott Murrell at half back.
Simon Grix and Jacob Fairbank should complete the back row, with Elliot Morris and Dan Fleming at prop.
With Ben Kaye and Brandon Moore at hooker, the only question mark is over the final bench spot, although Marshall was leaning towards the versatile Ed Barber, who can play anywhere from centre to prop.
“It’s always a tough fixture over there,” said Marshall, whose side won at Post Office Road last summer in a game that played a huge part in their eventual top four league finish.
“We need to keep our discipline and our kicking game needs to match theirs.”