Halifax coach Richard Marshall has pledged his support to his under-performing players, insisting ‘there is no panic’ ahead of Sunday’s Championship game against league leaders Toronto at the Shay (3.0).
Fax have endured a bumpy start to the season, with the manner of last weekend’s 38-16 loss at York putting a dent in morale only a week after the club seemed to be getting on track with a dominant home win over Dewsbury.
But Marshall remains upbeat, although he admits his team’s week-to-week consistency is a source of frustration for all concerned.
“We reviewed the game on Tuesday night and you have to credit York, they made us look poor,” said Marshall.
“Their speed around the ruck hurt us and when you’re losing that area you’re conceding penalties, making poor decisions and doing too much defending.
“But there’s no panic; we’re inconsistent at the moment and the quality of the teams in the competition this year means that you’re more likely to be exposed.
“Our supporters aren’t happy because we are not where they want us to be, but just as we weren’t the best team in the competition when we beat a good Dewsbury side, we aren’t the worst team because we lost at York.
“We’ve been here before and come through and we’ll come through again.
“We are sticking with the team and supporting them.
“They are good enough players, they just did not play well last week and they all know they need to perform better.
“We normally get a response from this group after a loss and after York I know I’d rather be playing the top of the league this weekend than whoever is at the bottom.”
Fax are expected to make minimal changes to the side that went down at Bootham Crescent, although Marshall’s lack of other obvious front row options - Wales youngster Sion Jones is injured, for example - ties his hands to some extent.
Castleford forward Will Maher is likely to play again on dual-registration, while the influential Simon Grix could return from injury to stiffen Fax’s midfield.
There remains a question mark at half back, with Ben Johnston not certain to recover from the dead leg that sidelined him against the Knights, which would leave Ben White, James Woodburn-Hall and rookie Reece Chapman-Smith in contention.
Chapman-Smith started at full back against York, winning the Players’ Player vote post-match, but could move aside this week to accommodate the return of Quentin Laulu-Togagae.
“We’re hopeful Simon will be fit, so that would mean someone else dropping out,” said Marshall, who also reported that talented back row or centre Chester Butler had finally returned to training after an eight week absence with a leg injury.
“There’s a doubt over Johnston still, but Chester is training again, although whether this is too big a game for him after such a long time out is something we need to think about.”
Toronto’s loss to London in last season’s promotion play off only seems to have bolstered their resolve for 2019, with the appointment of former Leeds coach Brian McDermott and another batch of proven top class talent creating a sense of inevitability around their eventual promotion.
“It’s about the quality of their players, not who’s coaching them,” said Marshall.
“It’s a squad of Super League and NRL players in the Championship, so there’s rightly a lot of expectation.
“They’ll challenge us around the ruck and Gareth O’Brien is class at full back.
“But this week is mainly about us and our performance.”