The real season begins tomorrow

THE season starts here.

The group stages of the Northern Rail Cup have been a tasty and occasionally thrilling introduction to 2012.

But there is no doubt that tomorrow’s Co-operative Championship kick off against Hunslet represents the beginning of the real business.

So what has the last month told us about Halifax?

Well, the home game against Featherstone was as good a game of rugby league as you will see, while the successful away day at Dewsbury on the opening day was a satisfyingly professional performance on a whole range of fronts.

The victory over Rochdale at the Shay and last weekend’s unexpected drama at London Skolars were less convincing, but in general boss Karl Harrison can be at least satisfied with his opening month of competitive action.

Crucially, qualification was achieved, although no one would have predicted that it would take Wayne Reittie’s last-second matchwinner at the New River Stadium to clinch safe passage to the quarter finals.

Injuries have been, and remain, a significant problem for Harrison, although that situation should improve over the next few weeks as frontline forwards Makali Aizue, Sam Barlow and Ross Divorty edge closer to action.

Harrison could certainly have done without the suspensions that rule Dane Manning and Craig Ashall out of tomorrow’s match, although their absence will open the door for talented youngsters Joe Chandler and Callum Casey to try and catch their coach’s eye.

Ashall will be particularly sorely missed, after a sensational start to his first year in the Championship.

Fortunately, while Hunslet showed themselves to be formidable opponents in 2011, winning in south Leeds and going within a whisker of getting a draw at the Shay, the Hawks look as accomodating foes as Fax could have asked for in the context of this season’s Championship.

A winter of on and off field changes have left new coach Barry Eaton with a relatively raw side, although winning three out of four NRC matches suggests they are still highly competitive.

The grizzled veteran David March, a player who has consistently caused Fax problems in recent seasons, is still present, although his half back partner Danny Grimshaw, who tore the visitors apart in Leeds last September, is absent through injury.

But the other Danny, the flying full back Ratcliffe, will play and has been one of the form players outside Super League over the last few weeks, capable of opening the tightest of defences.

As on so many occasions through the season, the key for Fax will not be their visitors, but themselves.

If they play to the level they showed against Featherstone a fortnight ago, the Hawks will struggle to contain them.

But if they drop their standards, they will invite Eaton’s team to gain a foothold in the game.

And that, as the Skolars so very ably demonstrated last weekend, is a dangerous thing indeed, no matter what the supposed standard of the opposition.