Halifax 30 Sheffield 26: Royston double keeps Sheffield at arm's length

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The Independent Online

Halifax, a power in Super League not many years ago, are one match from the National League One grand final but they had to battle all the way against the most improved team in the lower leagues. Sheffield only scraped into NL One via the playoffs last year and were widely expected to struggle this time, but they gave as good as they got in a stirring match at the Shay.

When the Eagles fell eight points behind with 10 minutes to play, it seemed that their brave effort was over, but that was merely the start of the most exciting phase of a compelling game. Danny Mills lost the ball over the line and Craig Cook was held up before with two minutes to go. Damien Reid sent Rob Worrincy in to cut the margin to four. Johnny Woodcock could not kick the goal, but when Sheffield got the ball back from the kick-off they went agonisingly close to going the length of the field and at least equalling the score, with Damien Gibson's tackle on Mills preventing them from doing so. Nick Turnbull was stopped just on the line, but the Eagles could not take the game into the extra time it deserved.

The match was a contest between Sheffield's pace and Halifax's weight of experience, which was apparent in the way that Paul Southern and David Larder set up Shad Royston for the opening try. Sheffield's blistering reply was a burst of three tries in 15 minutes, from James Ford, Dominic Brambani and Richard Newlove. Some of the rugby involved in those scores was a delight to see, but Fax were back in front by half time thanks to short range tries from Sean Penkywicz and Arron Trinder.

Neither club could be promoted to Super League but that did not stop them putting everything into trying to keep their seasons alive. Speedy Ford brought Sheffield back level at the end of a glorious move, but the guile of Graham Holroyd won the day when he kicked through to create Royston's second, his two goals giving Halifax just enough of a cushion and earning a visit from Whitehaven in the next round.

Halifax: Royston, Gibson, Roberts, Va qulis, Greenwood, Holroyd, Penkywicz, Southern, Hoare, Wrench, Larder, Smith, Joseph. Substitutes: Watson, Ball, Trinder, Watene.

Sheffield: Woodcock, Mills, Ford, Reid, Worrincy, Lindsay, Brambani, Howieson, Cook, Stringer, Holdstock, Corcoran, Hayes. Substitutes: Newlove, Turnbull, Trayler, Buckenham.

Referee: M Dorber (Wigan).