Leigh to test Fax’s defensive skill

IF there is one aspect of Halifax’s play that new boss Karl Harrison has tightened up in 2012, it is their defence.

Sure, they got a bit casual last weekend in the second half of their 84-28 Challenge Cup win over South Wales.

And that was perhaps understandable, given that the game was already over as a contest by that stage.

Generally though, Fax have been a difficult side to score against this year, with only Co-operative Championship winners Featherstone - still the only side to beat Harrison’s new-look line up - scraping past the 30-point mark.

But it is difficult to escape the conclusion that tonight’s league fixture against Leigh may present perhaps the most significant test of their ability to preserve their own try line yet.

Yes, Sheffield, the team Fax beat in front of the TV cameras three weeks ago, are a fine side. They are also particularly physically formidable in the forwards.

But I’m not sure they have the same quality of playmakers that Leigh possess.

With the excellent stand off Martin Ridyard firing the passes on the edges, and former Halifax hooker and Ireland international Bob Beswick scheming around the rucks, the Centurions have skill and deception in equal measure.

And with Super League veteran Stuart Littler lurking in the backline, they’ve got the strike power to add the finishing touches too.

Anyone who was at the Leigh Sports Village in January, as the home side romped home 44-14 in pre-season action, will be well aware of that.

With a dominant pack in front of him, Ridyard - whose decision making and skill set up Leigh’s last-second Northern Rail Cup final win over Fax in Blackpool last July - tore the visitors to shreds with a deft array of short and long passes.

If he gets the same kind of platform this evening, it is a fair assumption that the same thing will happen.

The key for Harrison’s players then is to deny the visitors the same kind of momentum they generated the last time they met.

Fax certainly look capable of doing that, particularly with what should be a well-rested side after Harrison’s decision to stand down half a dozen key men against the Scorpions.

If Gannon, Robinson, Manning, Divorty, Ambler and co play their best games tonight, Fax should have enough to shade the midfield armwrestle.

And if they win that, we already know they have the firepower behind the scrum to score the points.

The stand off Anthony Thackeray has looked particularly sharp in recent weeks.

Against Keighley last time out in the league, he scored one try and was only denied what would have been the clincher by a desperate in-goal tackle from Cougars’ number one Craig Moss.

Harrison made it clear after the game that Fax’s big problem was not giving Thackeray enough quality ball to allow him to attack the line, so expect that to change tonight.

This game doesn’t have the feel of a big win for either side though.

Rather, it feels like the kind of contest that could be on a knife edge until the final seconds.