Halifax earn an academic honour

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The Independent Online
Rugby LeagueHalifax 32 St Helens 24

It might be only of historical or academic interest that Halifax finished the final winter season in third place, but both sides at Thrum Hall yesterday put on a performance that was a better advertisement for rugby in the inclement months of the year than anyone had a right to expect.

It was not until a try from Simon Baldwin five minutes from time, typical of so much good and adventurous play in difficult conditions, that Halifax clinched their victory.

For much of the game it seemed as though their inability to kick their goals would let them down. Their Samoan full-back, Mike Umaga, scored two excellent first-half tries, but the way that he missed four highly kickable goals contributed to the closeness of the contest.

Saints, without six of the players who started the Regal Trophy final against Wigan last weekend, also did their bit to make it a gripping and unpredictable match.

Two tries from their young centre, Andy Haigh, sandwiched on either side of one from the Halifax scrum-half, Craig Dean, put them in front until Umaga hit them with his brace before half-time to give the home side a two-point advantage.

Back came Saints after the break with Dean Busby retrieving Karl Hammond's kick to send in Phil Waring, but a wonderful piece of dummy-half play from Paul Rowley, just shading his personal battle with Keiron Cunningham, with whom he will surely contest the Great Britain hooker's job in years to come, set up Martin Moana and the lead changed hands yet again.

Cunningham restored Saints' lead, before Rowley again demonstrated his class, scampering over the snow-sprinkled surface to send Paul Highton barrelling for the line.

When Paul Anderson and Baldwin both did well to keep the ball alive, it then went through a series of hands for Baldwin to finish off a try that made Halifax sure of finishing third.

That is a remarkable effort by a club forced to draw deep on its young players in the second half of the season. As for Saints, they have done more than enough to show that their new coach, Shaun McRae, has plenty of willing talent to work with when he arrives this week.

Halifax: Umaga, Ellis, Highton, Tuilagi, Munro, Moana, Dean, W Jackson (Perrett, 65), Rowley, Ketteridge (Anderson, 49), Amone, M Jackson (Gillespie, 61), Baldwin.

St Helens: Prescott, Hayes (Waring, 35), Haigh, Riley, Arnold, Hammond, Veivers (Sheil, 51), Perelini (Mathison, 76), Cunningham, Leatham, Booth, Northby (Newall, 58), Busby.

Referee: S Cummins (Widnes).