Halifax coach Richard Marshall admitted he was going to “enjoy” his side’s remarkable top four Championship finish before thinking about their upcoming Super 8s Qualifiers programme.
As expected, Fax eased past bottom of the table Rochdale at the Shay on Sunday, winning 38-6 to seal fourth place and a minimum of £450,000 in prize money.
Marshall’s unfancied line up, assembled on a relatively shoestring budget, eased big spenders Leigh and Featherstone out of the final four to tee up their third Qualifiers campaign in their coach’s four years in charge.
The full fixture list for the next two months will be announced on Wednesday, but Fax will host Super League champions Leeds, promotion hunting Toronto and Salford, with away days at Hull KR, London, Toulouse and Widnes.
“We’re ecstatic, it’s been a fantastic 23 rounds and we got ourselves to a position where we needed to win the last game,” said Marshall, whose players have next weekend off before the Qualifiers kick off the following week.
“Last year it was the team at the top of the table, Hull KR, this time it was the team at the bottom and that poses different challenges.
“I’m not sure what the target is now, if I’m being honest.
“We’re going to enjoy what we’ve done for a few days, then we’ll sit down and refocus.
“People have said is this the best of the three (top four finishes)? And it probably is.
“Just because of the amount of money that’s been spent in the competition and the strength of the playing squads that are out there at other clubs.
“For Halifax to be challenging, let alone getting in the top four at the end of it, is magnificent.
“Last year, we’d taken a pay cut and there was a financial incentive for us, to get that money back.
“This year, the motivation was the team spirit, the attitude and the willingness to work harder than the opposition for each other.
“And 100 per cent it’s the players drive that spirit; we prepare them every week to the best of our ability and take pride in doing that, but the spirit comes from them.
“We could have a good tilt at the Qualifiers, but I’m not going to say how many we are going to win, lose or draw.”
On an afternoon that had the potential to set nerves jangling, Fax were always comfortable, with Rochdale a toothless threat in attack aside from a five-minute surge after half time, by which time they trailed 22-0 in any case.
“I felt we were well in control in the first half; our game management, our control, our focus, was all good,” said Marshall.
“We were a bit boring by our standards but we knew what we needed to do and we did it.
“Defensively we were very good, our discipline was very good.
“That first 13 minutes really set the platform. Simon Grix spoke in the week about breaking the game down into quarters, laying some foundations in that tough, nervy period and then scoring some points before half time.
“Rochdale didn’t give up, but we had the quality at key times.”
As expected, Fax were without key trio Adam Tangata (knee), Shane Grady (foot) and James Saltonstall (hamstring), while Super League loan recruits Sam Wood, Liam Cooper and Jordan Baldwinson were not considered after sealing moves ahead of Friday’s transfer deadline.
That left young Welshman Sion Jones, Londoner James Woodburn-Hall and Rochdale native Ben Heaton to come back in to the side after varying absences.
“We were without Shane and Adam and James, and that’s why we’ve brought some players in this week,” said Marshall.
“Our experience last year was that physically we were beaten up by the end of the Qualifiers, so we’ve strengthened.
“Shane was desperate to play, but he’d have needed an injection and in terms of player welfare it wasn’t the right decision because we felt we had enough without him this week.
“The three that came in had a really good dig, I was pleased with how it worked out.”