INCOMING Halifax coach Karl Harrison has put the development of local talent firmly at the top of his agenda over the next three seasons.
And the former Great Britain front rower, a member of the club’s Hall of Fame after a Fax career that spanned almost a decade, has admitted he could spend less on his top side in order to make his vision for the district’s junior players a reality.
“Halifax have been really successful in the last few years and you have to respect the job that Martin Hall and Matt Calland have done since 2006,” said Harrison, who revealed that he penned a three year contract to replace Calland almost six weeks ago.
“But I think you need to have strong foundations before you can really advance at the top level.
“Widnes have gone into Super League this year because everything was in place beneath first team level; ticking all the boxes.
“I still think you can put a very competitive first team out while still building things underneath.
“We need some youth structure in the place; I set the youth structure up at Bradford, I did the same at Salford.
“That’s what it needs, even if that forfeits money from the top level playing budget.
“I am sick of these so called big clubs coming into Halifax and pinching all the junior talent.
“As a club, Halifax needs to make allegiances with those kids and make them want to play for their hometown club.
“It’s difficult in the current circumstances, because Super League rugby is a big draw, but it is down to me and the board to have a vision that will give people an affinity with the club.
“Looking from the outside in, they have lost their way a little bit in that area.”
Harrison, who was the 2006 Super League Coach of the Year after taking Salford to the play offs in only their third season back in the top flight, has enjoyed unprecedented success with Batley over the last two and a half years, transforming the Bulldogs from relegation fodder to Northern Rail Cup winners and top three Championship finishers on a shoestring budget.
From the moment Fax confirmed his signature last weekend - less than 48 hours after Fax, bossed by caretaker coach Damian Ball, dumped Batley out of the play offs with a 32-22 win at Mount Pleasant - rumours have circulated that the 47 year old will attempt to replicate that success not just by transferring his coaching to the Shay, but also a significant number of his Bulldogs’ players.
“You can only coach and put a game plan around the personnel you have got,” said Harrison, playing down suggestions of a wholesale transfer swoop.
“We put systems in place at Batley that were suitable for the players we had; at Halifax we might be a bit more aggressive, because we are hoping to recruit a different type of player.
“I would like to bring some players from there with me, but not on the scale people are talking about.
“I told Batley six weeks ago I was leaving and I gave them my word I wouldn’t talk to any of their players until my time with the club was over.
“That’s the situation now, so if Batley haven’t signed those players I want now, then they are on the open market.
“It’s exciting for me to have a competitive budget for the first time in a long time, but you cannot just buy players, you have to form a team.
“Not everyone fits in with how I want to play, or how the players want to play.
“I like surrounding myself with honest, hard working players because they take that attitude on to the field and reflect that attitude in their performances.
“But you need a little bit of cream too, and we will have that.
“I think it will be a really nice squad.”
Harrison, who worked alongside Fax’s football consultant Brian Noble at Bradford before taking the reigns at the Willows in 2002, also poured cold water on suggestions he would play a significantly more conservative brand of football to his predecessor.
“Halifax have played a so-called expansive game, and they do win games,” said Harrison.
“But if you analyse it, they’ve not been that expansive: there is a lot of dummy half running, utilising those explosive players they have got, and they score a lot of what you could call easy tries.
“Personally, I don’t think dummy half runs are exciting, but St Helens have done it for years and years and you can’t say they’ve not been successful.
“It comes down to opinion, but I do like to play a more structured game, with a high skill level.
“We will be very physical - we will be going for size, with a little bit of craft as well - and it will be a different type of game we play.
“I’d still like to think we will play exciting rugby league.”