MOTIVATION is everything.
Halifax went into their final Co-operative Championship league game of 2011 searching for some collective form ahead of their now-confirmed play off date at Batley on Thursday night, but with no tangible reward on offer on the league ladder.
Paul March’s Hawks knew they needed a win to definitively secure their position in whatever form next season’s Championship takes, saving them the need to pay any regard to fellow strugglers York’s result at Sheffield.
The differences were clear on the field: Hunslet – eventually saved in any case by the Eagles’ thumping of the City Knights - looked desperate to win; Halifax, for long stretches, were simply desperate.
In the end, Damian Ball’s side, who trailed 20-6 at the break, roused themselves sufficiently to snatch the points, with second half touchdowns from Sam Barlow (2) and Rob Worrincy levelling at 24-24 before a penalty from the flawless boot of Danny Jones and a late Ryan Fieldhouse touchdown sealed the victory.
What the watching Karl Harrison, the Batley coach and the man widely expected to fill the Fax hotseat in 2012, made of the afternoon’s events only he knows.
The visitors looked ropey with and without the ball, but they played their way into the game as the minutes ticked by and the energy they showed in the closing stages suggests they will still present a formidable challenge to Harrison’s Bulldogs.
The opening exchanges had been relatively even, but even then there were signs the Hawks – with a far bigger carrot to come up with a result – were on top, with only Barlow matching them in those early collisions.
And there were ominous signs on the five minute mark when the stand off Danny Grimshaw sidestepped his way through on the left and sent the other Danny, full back Ratcliffe, stretching over for the try.
The centre Jack Latus converted and the home side were almost in again straight from the kick off, Fax relying on a desperate Worrincy cover tackle to deny Grimshaw on the other flank.
Fax looked as disjointed with the ball as they were without it, although they threatened twice around quarter time, loose forward Jacob Fairbank being called back for a marginal forward pass and the same player then going close from Bob Beswick’s grubber kick.
Predictably, and it has to be said deservedly, it was Hunslet who scored next, Ratcliffe crossing for his second on 23 minutes after a simple draw and pass move down the right.
Latus was on target again to make it 12-0, although that lead was threatened from the moment Fax threw hooker Sean Penkywicz into the fray with props Jim Gannon and Makali Aizue.
Penkywicz instantly provided more zip with the ball, and it was from his pass that James Haley slipped outside Latus to score Fax’s first try just past the half hour.
Danny Jones converted from the sideline, and Penkywicz almost set up the equaliser with a chip kick that was just too long for Black.
But that proved an illusion, the Hawks stretching their lead going into half time when Paul March touched down from a David Clayton offload.
Latus missed the conversion, but promptly added two monstrous penalties from half way as Fax’s discipline went the same way as the rest of their game to leave them trailing 20-6 at the break.
The opening passage of the second half offered little respite for the visitors, as the pattern of the first 40 continued.
A brief scuffle on 49 minutes – Gannon being pulled out for a talking too - raised the crowd from their slumbers briefly, but only briefly.
Then, on 52 minutes, and against the run of play, Fax suddenly conjured a try: Haley bursting clear down the sideline, stepping out of a couple of tackles and sending Worrincy over to the right of the posts.
Jones converted for a 20-12 scoreline and Fax had a very noticeable spring in their step.
A needless penalty, Penkywicz shoving Paul March over at a play the ball with Fax in a super attacking position, swung the momentum back the other way and the Hawks nearly scored when March’s dab into the in goal took a wild ricochet, forcing Fairbank to concede a drop out.
Another penalty followed, and the Hawks made their visitors pay; David March, supposedly ruled out of the game in midweek, forcing his way over on the right for a 24-12 scoreline going into the final quarter.
The visitors’ became more expansive as they became more desperate, and the Hawks finally cracked on 65 minutes, Penkywicz sending Barlow over the top of a couple of defenders from point blank range and Jones closing the gap to 24-18 with the conversion.
Hunslet then put the kick off dead, although Penkywicz’s feeble attempt at a touchfinder – which skimmed along the ground towards the dead ball line before being reeled in by Ratcliffe – just about summed up Fax’s afternoon’s work.
Jones and Fairbank’s chargedown of Paul March’s drop goal – a brave Joe Chandler tidying up on the deck – and this time Fax made the most of their chance: Penkywicz working a carbon-copy of their third try for Barlow to score.
Jones levelled at 24-24 and then, with two minutes remaining, referee Ronnie Laughton blew for a ball steal on Greenwood and Jones stepped up to give Fax a win that had looked unlikely for most of the afternoon.
All that remained was for Penkywicz and Chandler to run away down the left, the back rower sending the supporting Ryan Fieldhouse over for the final try of the game, Jones converting.