Fax lose out at the death as Rovers clinch opening day thriller

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Halifax lost out in an opening day Championship thriller as top four rivals Featherstone edged a 32-26 win at the Shay with a Kyle Briggs try four minutes from time.

Richard Marshall’s side had endured a torrid opening half against a dominant Rovers side, but somehow turned a 16-10 interval deficit into a 22-16 with quickfire tries from Adam Tangata and Scott Murrell in the opening minutes of the second half.

The rest of the half was a classic rugby league rollercoaster, momentum ebbing and flowing before Briggs pounced on a bouncing ball to break a 26-26 stalemate.

Earlier, the home side had threatened first, with Scott Murrell’s cross kick just slipping from the flying fingertips of Steve Tyrer as he soared above the defence.

After that though, it was pretty much all Featherstone as a rash of penalties and errors, coupled with the visitors invention and physicality, put Marshall’s players under the pump.

Rovers had already been denied twice by timely interventions from James Saltonstall, when took the lead with a smartly worked Jack Hardcastle try on their right.

And while Ian Hardman skewed the conversion, it hardly seemed to matter when a similar play in the same spot opened the door for Jack Briscoe to touchdown.

Hardman missed again to leave the score at 8-0, and while Fax threatened briefly with Ben Johnston and Ben Heaton half breaks, the visitors continued to dominate and scored again when an awful kick from Johnston and some slack defence ended with Ash Handley racing under the posts.

Hardman’s conversion left the score at 14-0, which would have been more if Handley’s next break had not ended with the ball on the floor.

Against the run of play, Fax responded with a scrambled Jacob Fairbank try from Ben Kaye’s grubber kick, Tyrer’s conversion closing the gap to 14-6.

And when super hands from Connor Robinson and Simon Grix, operating at centre in place of the injured Heaton, put Rob Worrincy over by the flag, Fax went to the break trailing their visitors just 16-10.

They turned the game on its head from the restart, Tangata storming over for Tyrer to convert and Murrell showing all his footballing intelligence to scurry over on the next set, Tyrer’s goal setting up a 22-16 scoreline that would have been unthinkable after half an hour.

A fumble from Worrincy from the restart gifted Rovers the position to create Hardcastle’s second score, Hardman’s missed conversion leaving Fax leading 22-20.

The home side almost scored again through the excellent Shane Grady, but after losing Mitch Cahalane to the sin bin they conceded back to back penalties that allowed Hardman to edge Featherstone 24-22 in front.

A desperate chase back and tackle from Tyrer denied Hardcastle by the corner flag, before the Fax centre made the difference at the other end, driving low and hard for the line after fine approach work from Cahalane, makeshift hooker Ed Barber and Robinson.

The conversion drifted inches wide, and Fax’s 26-24 lead evaporated when Hardman’s final penalty tied up an increasingly hot tempered game - a 70th minute melee had already been placed on report - at 26-26 with seven minutes remaining.

And when Anthony Thackeray’s soaring kick bounced off Tyrer and the chasing Frankie Mariano, it sat up perfectly for Briggs, Hardman kicking the goal.

Fax pushed hard in a frantic final four minutes, but try as they might they couldn’t grab a share of the spoils.

Halifax: Robinson; Saltonstall, Tyrer, Heaton, Worrincy; Murrell, Johnston; Ambler, Kaye, Cahalane, Grady, Grix, Fairbank. Subs: Barber, Tangata, Boyle, Mammone

Featherstone: Hardman; Handley, Briscoe, Ulugia, Hardcastle; Thackeray, Wildie; Bostock, Carlile, Baldwinson, Davies, Mariano, Tagg. Subs: Briggs, Griffin, Walters, Ormondroyd

Referee: J. Child