A subtle transformation is taking place at Halifax this season, one which could turn them into genuine candidates for a place in the Super League play-offs.
Over the last few seasons, the Blue Sox have been primarily renowned for their uncompromising approach in the forwards. Those good results they have earned have come about largely by out-muscling sides, especially at home at the Shay. But there are signs that a new, more expansive Halifax is beginning to emerge. Even in their Challenge Cup defeat by St Helens last week, they attracted widespread praise for the quality of their rugby.
"It's all about recruitment," the club's coach, Steve Linnane, said as he prepared for today's visit of Wigan. "The introduction of Dave Woods, Robbie Beckett and Colum Halpenny in the back-line has given us a lot more attacking power." The three new Australians give Halifax one of the quicker sets of threequarters in the competition, something that can only help the development of the one Englishman among them.
"Stuart Donlan is getting better all the time," says Linnane of the young centre he signed from Leigh last season and who shone against Saints.
"And having players like that takes the pressure off Daryl Cardiss at full-back, now that he isn't expected to produce the goods all the time." Linnane says that the new injection of pace has changed the emphasis of his coaching, with the obvious need to supply the players who have the potential to do damage.
"We are going to score a lot more tries this season," predicts the Halifax hooker, John Lawless, who is hoping to return against Wigan after a back injury. "And with half-backs like Andrew Dunemann and Gavin Clinch, we will always create chances." Keeping those two healthy and working in tandem is a priority for Linnane this season, with Dunemann's lengthy absences last year one factor that held Halifax back. Their creativity and the speed outside them promises a very different type of entertainment at the Shay this year.
Not that Linnane will lose sight of the essentials. The big, aggressive forward pack is still in place. "We won't neglect that side of things," he promises. "With fellows like Jim Gannon, Brett Goldspink and Andy Hobson, we'll have a very formidable pack.
"Making the top six is definitely a target for us, but we've got to win our home games. That was why we were disappointed against Saints last week, even though everyone said we played so well."
That is also why they need a result against Wigan this afternoon, although Linnane does not share the general scepticism about their opponents' early season form.
"They had a very tough opening game against Bradford and weren't exactly thrashed and they were very good in the second half at London, so I don't think their form is too bad.
"As far as the Cup-tie at Leigh is concerned, I think that's one they will want to forget as quickly as possible. Conditions were very bad and you can't draw many conclusions from that match. Any side featuring Andy Farrell can beat anyone."
In previous seasons, Halifax would be concen-trating on closing down a side like Wigan and drawing them in tight.
Today, it could be a far more open spectacle, though, and one in which the Blue Sox will not necessarily look second best.Reuse content