Rugby League: Pendlebury heals Halifax rifts

looks at the reunited face of a side with a demanding day ahead
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HALIFAX'S players go into one of their most demanding matches of the season this evening still reeling from the confusing events of the week. For 24 hours, they did not know whether their coach, John Pendlebury, was coming or going. On Wednesday night Pendlebury resigned, blaming a lack of unity and communication at boardroom level for his decision.

"All the players were in a state of shock," said the Halifax scrum-half, Gavin Clinch. "No one knew anything about it until the following morning. We had a team meeting and everyone was hoping that he would come back."

They got their wish that night when the club persuaded Pendlebury to return to his duties after his brief departure. It says much about him and his quiet effectiveness that both board and players wanted him back; most resignations are accepted without too much argument but Pendlebury's was an exception.

As a player he was a forward who made up in intelligence for his lack of size and speed. As a coach, although never particularly comfortable with microphones and notebooks stuck in his face, he has become well regarded by his players as someone who gets on with the job.

"I haven't heard anyone say a bad word about John since I've been here," said Clinch. "I've found him to be a really good coach and he's got everyone working together. This would have been a terrible time of the season to have lost him, with matches against Bradford and St Helens coming up."

They do not now have to negotiate those hurdles without Pendlebury, although what affect the week's uncertainties have had on their preparations is anyone's guess. Halifax have won three of their first five matches, with the only really disappointing result being their defeat to Warrington at Wildespool last week.

"But I don't think that had much to do with John resigning, because our start has been pretty good overall," said Clinch, whose own contribution has been one of the reasons that Halifax have looked more convincing this season.

Few knew his name when the club announced that they had signed him from the Sydney side St George, but if they had wanted a testimonial for him they would have to go no further down the road to this evening's opponents.

The Bradford coach, Matthew Elliott, is a firm admirer of Clinch's ability. "Most people might not have been too excited when they heard Halifax had signed him, but I was, because I knew what he could do," he said.

As an emerging talent, Clinch captained Cronulla's Under-21 side, coached incidentally by Stuart Raper, now with Castleford. "He controlled the whole team and there were some pretty good players in that side," recalled Elliott, whose attempts to lure him across to St George did not bear fruit until after he had left for Bradford. "I was confident he would develop into a good first-grade player," he said. It did not quite work out that way for Clinch, who held down the first-team spot only intermittently last season and read the writing on the wall when the club signed a new scrum-half for this year.

"They didn't show enough patience with him," said Elliott. "The ability has always been there, but it's a confidence thing with him. He could become as important for Halifax as Mark Aston is for Sheffield. He has leadership qualities that are now being allowed to be developed."

Even with the question of who coaches them now apparently resolved, Halifax will need Clinch's leadership qualities - and those of his captain, Karl Harrison, freed to play after being found "not guilty" on a high-tackle charge - more this weekend than most.