Rugby League: Not working out for Halifax

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The Independent Online
IT HAS not quite worked out for Halifax this season. Their present position of fifth in the Stones Bitter Championship is respectable, but they should be capable of something more than respectability.

The view shared by many at the start of the season was that this should be the year that one of the best-supported clubs in the country returned to the top bracket. They seemed to have bought wisely and they had enjoyed (if that is the right word) a full summer of Malcolm Reilly's highly structured and demanding training regime, which should have made them as fit as any club in the league.

That concentration on conditioning may yet see them stay the course better than some rivals, but they have had some dreadful luck with their signings. Steve Hampson, the Great Britain full-back bought from Wigan, immediately fell prey to a serious injury and has shown no signs of recovering his old form.

Michael Jackson, another blue-chip investment, has also spent more time off the field than on it. The trio brought in as a job lot from Newcastle Knights - Michael Hagan, John Schuster and David Boyd - have all done solid jobs without setting Thrum Hall alight in the way some antipodean imports did during Halifax's last golden era in the mid-Eighties.

The best Halifax can now hope for is a good Challenge Cup run - with Warrington as a formidable first obstacle on 29 January - and a finish in the top four. To do that, they must win matches like today's at home to Sheffield Eagles.

Sheffield have shown better form since their unsatisfactory state of limbo with their Australian coach, Bill Gardner, was resolved by releasing him early to take up his job with Queensland Crushers.

The loss of Daryl Powell, the outstanding player throughout their 10-year history, with a tendon injury is a serious blow, however. They may find the pace of a back-line including Mark Preston, Graeme Hallas and John Bentley too much for them today.

TODAY'S FIXTURES (3.0 unless stated) Stones Bitter Championship: Halifax v Sheffield Eagles; Hull Kingston Rovers v Leeds (3.15); Leigh v St Helens; Salford v Hull; Warrington v Oldham. Second Division: Batley v Ryedale-York (3.15); Carlisle v Bramley (2.0); Doncaster v London Crusaders; Highfield v Barrow; Huddersfield v Hunslet (3.30); Keighley Cougars v Rochdale Hornets (3.15); Swinton v Workington Town; Whitehaven v Dewsbury (2.30).