Fax blazed the expansion trail

Unlike most rugby league people, some of us have been to the Sixfields Stadium in Northampton before.

A consortium are believed to be talking to the RFL about entering a team based there in Championship One 2013 but Halifax were there in July 1998 when they played Sheffield in a televised game which was part of that year’s “On the Road” Super League matches.

Andrew Hardcastle has the Fax team that Friday night as Damian Gibson, John Bentley, Daio Powell, David Bouveng, Fereti Tuilagi, Chris Chester, Gavin Clinch, Karl Harrison, Martin Hall, Richard Marshall, Gary Mercer, Carl Gillespie and Marty Moana. The subs were Jamie Bloem, Des Clark, Paul Rowley and Kelvin Skerrett.

All the usual suspects were playing therefore in what was a remarkably consistent season squadwise with the only absentees being Martin Pearson and Simon Baldwin.

How some of the above named managed to play in the England versus Wales game two days later is unclear following overnight celebrations in the team hotel after the game!

But Gibson, Powell, Hall, Skerrett and Rowley all managed to do just that although the latter, being teetotal, had a distinct advantage.

The absence of Pearson accounted for the presence of Bentley on the right wing but it wasn’t to be a particularly happy night for “Bentos”.

After enjoying such a spectacular and successful Halifax career since his arrival in the summer of 1992 (which had taken in World Cup and World Sevens appearances for his country and a spell in Sydney with Balmain) he limped off midway through the second half with a reoccurrence of a nagging ankle injury and the last we saw of him in a Fax shirt was of him sitting forlornly in the dugout iced and with his foot up.

He hadn’t played consistently since his loan move to rugby union and Newcastle Falcons in the autumn on 1996 but this was a sad way to bring down the curtain.

This televised game was one of the first occasions on which “Clinch the Pinch” acquired his nickname.

His ball steal on Rod Doyle just before halftime which led to a Powell try and a 16-0 Fax lead at the break was typical.

Not for the first time in his coaching career either John Pendlebury was breaking new ground as he started to rotate his hookers, something which is commonplace these days.

Hall had just arrived from Wigan and made his debut for the club in a second team game at Sheffield in a team which included no fewer than three hookers – Hall, Danny Seal and Danny Barnes.

The attendance incidentally was 3,087 so the ground was more or less half full.

There didn’t seem to be many neutral spectators in evidence though.

Just for reference the later home game against Sheffield at the Shay had a crowd of 4,628 whilst in the return at the Don Valley Stadium it had been announced as “5,000”.

There was one other controversial point which had distinct echoes in 2011 – how did both teams manage to go down the M1 with blue and white shirts?