HALIFAX lost for a sixth time in seven Co-operative Championship starts yesterday, somehow turning a 25-24 lead with 10 minutes remaining into a morale-sapping loss and even depriving themselves of a bonus point.
Matt Calland’s side, who led 18-6 midway through a solid first half before being pegged back to 18-18 at the break, had seemed poised for a second league win on the bounce when veteran stand off Graham Holroyd tapped over a drop goal to break a 24-24 stalemate.
But a dropped ball gave Nigel Wright’s visitors an attacking foothold and on-loan Wigan back rower Jack Hughes breezed over to put the Raiders, who looked like running out of bodies at one stage and finished with only one fit replacement, back ahead in front of a sparse crowd of just over 1,700.
The Cumbrians then posted two more tries, a belter from winger Andy Ballard and a last-play-of-the-game effort from Jamie Rooney that, coupled with three Rooney conversions and a drop goal, left Fax empty handed.
Significantly, all three tries – plus the other two Barrow scored in the second half - arrived down Fax’s right flank, where the withdrawal of injured centre James Haley shortly after the break left Barrow free to isolate Holroyd with, it has to be said, some success.
The recalled Haley had been in the action twice in the opening minutes, once with a half break down the left and then with a neat pick up on his own line after Rooney had stabbed the ball through.
Fax looked sharp in those opening minutes, and it was no surprise when they opened the scoring.
Holroyd and Sean Penkywicz worked the trademark one-two in the middle of the field, Paul White surged up the centre and sent Rob Worrincy cantering away to the posts.
Holroyd tagged on the goal, but Barrow were level seven minutes later.
Miles Greenwood, outstanding from start to finish, produced a try saving tackle on Gary Broadbent, and Holroyd then came up with an equally crucial knock down as Barrow shifted the ball to their right.
But Fax were finally undone when Zeb Luisi’s midfield grubber sat up perfectly for the onrushing Ned Catic.
Rooney converted from touch for a 6-6 scoreline after 14 minutes, before the home side regained the advantage early in the second quarter.
What would have been a try scoring pass from Dylan Nash to Worrincy was knocked down by Ballard’s flailing arm, giving Fax a scrum on their opponents’ 20.
Danny Jones then improvised superbly as the defence pushed up, chipping the ball to the left where White reeled the ball in and cut inside to score.
Holroyd was again on target from the sideline and when the old stager stabbed the ball through towards the posts on the half hour, Jones was on hand to grab his side’s third try.
The conversion was a formality, but again the Raiders hauled themselves back into contention as they finally managed to pick Holroyd off in defence five minutes before the break and centre Chris Larkin surged through to touch down.
Rooney matched Holroyd’s feats from the touchline for an 18-12 scoreline, although Fax might have been in again before the interval if Haley had managed to hang on to a sharp chance created by another Holroyd kick.
As it was, Fax were six points in front before the break, but not for long after it.
Frank Watene’s offfload on the Barrow 30 a couple of minutes into the half was definitely on, but Barrow reacted quicker than his own teammates and one ball stealing penalty later, Michael Knowles was scoring on the right, Rooney levelling the scores with the conversion.
If that was frustrating, it was nothing to what followed.
Fax struggled to maintain the fluency they had showed in the first 40 and the Raiders slowly but surely gained the ascendancy.
Their try, when it came, was a shocker from a Fax perspective, Jones’ pass being spilled by prop Jim Gannon and scooped up by Raiders front rower Adam Walker, who showed a remarkable turn of speed for a prop before slipping the scoring pass out to the supporting Ballard.
Rooney converted to put the Raiders 24-18 up and present Fax with a major test of confidence and character.
They passed the first test, Sam Barlow barging over from a nicely disguised Bob Beswick pass after great defence from Worrincy, Penkywicz and Beswick had driven Ballard back into his own in-goal area, Holroyd tieing things up with the conversion.
Fax got another chance when their former loanee Matt James was penalised on half way, Holroyd kicking the drop goal late in the tackle count after the Barrow defence had stood firm.
Sadly, that was as good as it got.