Calland the best since Chris?

THE sudden and, as yet, unexplained exit of Matt Calland yesterday signalled the end of one of the more successful eras of Halifax’s recent history.

Calland, who originally arrived midway through 2006 as assistant to incoming coach Martin Hall, has been in sole charge since the beginning of 2008, his near-four season tenure at the top making him the club’s longest-serving boss since 1980s legend Chris Anderson.

Calland was also the first coach since Anderson to deliver a significant trophy, winning the 2010 Championship Grand Final against Featherstone last September.

He also guided Fax to the 2009 decider against Barrow, which they lost, and last week’s showpiece at Bloomfield Road, making them by far the most successful Championship club over the last three years.

There were other highlights too, notably the golden-point Challenge Cup loss to Castleford in May 2009, although Calland’s infamous “country mile” comment made immediately after that game haunted him for the rest of that year and possibly beyond.

In any case, if Fax, as is widely expected, do not make the Super League cut when the next round of licences are announced at Old Trafford on Tuesday morning, it will have nothing to do with their on-field performance.

Calland was not just successful though, he was devoted - almost at the expense of his own job security - to a free-wheeling brand of rugby league that was virtually unique to him.

At various points in 2009, he managed to shoehorn five playmakers - Mick Govin, Ben Black, Mark Gleeson, Sean Penkywicz and Bob Beswick - into his matchday 17 and, faced with a choice between attacking flair and defensive solidity, almost invariably opted for the former.

His brand of high-risk adventure didn’t always pay dividends, but when it did it was thrillingly spectacular to watch.

But his Shay stay has not always been plain sailing.

Calland hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons after an assault in a Halifax nightclub three years ago and was formally suspended last May in the wake of the Ostick-gate scandal, which saw Fax thrown out of the Challenge Cup.

He was eventually re-instated after three days when Hall, his long-time friend and mentor, took the blame for fielding the ineligible forward in a fourth-round tie at Swinton and resigned his position as director of football.

There were also five-game losing streaks in both 2009 and 2010 which put the coach under the cosh on the terraces and in the boardroom.

And he appeared to be teetering on the brink of being sacked this spring, with a disastrous run of form - which saw the Champions rooted to the foot of the league ladder - only being arrested when the former Great Britain coach Brian Noble was hired as a ‘football consultant’, which included a brief to review the club’s coaching set up.

Noble’s impact - not just in terms of results, but also the re-organisation of the club’s training schedule - was immediate and impressive, which perhaps only served to highlight Calland’s own shortcomings.

Ominously for Calland - whose current contract, which included the pay cut he accepted last autumn as the club slashed their football spending, was due to run out in November - there was no public indication he would be offered a new deal for 2012 and beyond, and that, as much as anything else, may be the most telling factor behind yesterday’s announcement.

Attention will now turn inevitably to his potential successor, although with so few games remaining it seems likely that Fax will allow the caretaker coach Damian Ball - presumably still assisted by Noble - to steer a course through to the end of the year.

Beyond that, there is unlikely to be a shortage of potential candidates for one of the plum jobs outside Super League.