Halifax won the Northern Rail Cup for the first time yesterday in Blackpool, hanging on to beat the favourites in an old-fashioned classic of a game.
Featherstone looked to have the edge when they drew level midway through the second half, but Fax, beaten by Leigh in the final last year, kept their nerve. Two goals and a try late on from Steve Tyrer, plus Craig Ashall's drop goal, steered them home for a victory they deserved as much for their gutsy defence as anything.
The big day out for clubs outside Super League rarely fails to produce a gripping contest. Pitting Featherstone, the most consistent team in the Championship, against Halifax, on their day the most expansive, promised to continue that tradition. It was all Halifax at the start. After four minutes, their half-backs combined as they have done so often this season, Paul Handforth kicking through for Anthony Thackeray to touch down.
Featherstone equalised with another half-back combination, Andy Kain passing to Liam Finn, who threw a dummy to manufacture a gap and a glimpse of the line.
Both these clubs have Super League aspirations, but this a different, less sanitised form of the game, where villains are still villains and you feel the big hits in row W of the stand. Sam Barlow was the centre of much of the game's abundant aggression and he was warned for his part in one of a series of flare-ups.Moments later, he was taking a short pass, scattering defenders and scoring under the posts.
Featherstone started the second half the stronger team, cutting the lead through Sam Smeaton's try. Finn, who recently set a world record for successive goal kicks, missed from the touchline, but soon added the equalising penalty.
The momentum was with Fev, the Championship leaders all season, but Halifax stopped them in their tracks. Tyrer kicked them back into the lead, Ashurst slotted over an opportunist one-pointer and, as time ran out, Barlow's offload kept the ball alive, Handforth kicked for the corner and Tyrer got the vital touch, with the video referee ruling that there had not been a knock-on in the build-up.
Nine points looked a comfortable margin, but it had been anything but that. What it was, however, was another in a series of these finals which have show how entertaining rugby league at this level can be.
Halifax have ticked one of the boxes that enable them to apply for Super League. Given the plight of their neighbours, Bradford, their minds might be turning to that sooner rather then later.
Halifax Fieldhouse; Worrincy, Paterson, Tyrer, Reittie; Handforth, Thackeray; Gannon, Robinson, Hesketh, Manning, Ambler, Ashall Substitutes used Bowman, Aizue, Barlow, Penkywicz. Tries Thackery, Bowman, Tyrer Goals Tyrer 4 Drop goal Ashall. Featherstone Hardman; Briscoe, Smeaton, Worthington, Saxton; Kain, Finn; England, Kaye, Dickens, Grayshon, Spears, Dale Substitutes used Lockwood, Maloney, Haley, Bostock Tries Finn, Smeaton Goals Finn 2 Referee J Leahy Attendance: 6,691