Simms the revivalist

Dave Hadfield talks to the man who has led Halifax towards rugby league 's pinnacle
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Halifax and their coach, Steve Simms, can achieve a breakthrough of symbolic importance today by going into second place in the First Division and becoming, mathematically at any rate, Wigan's closest challengers.

There is the small question of a match against Leeds at Headingley to negotiate this afternoon, but the very fact that Halifax could overtake the home side on points difference and assume leadership of the chasing group is a tribute to the work Simms hasdone since taking over from Malcolm Reilly at Thrum Hall in October.

The quietly-spoken Australian, who first came to Britain to coach struggling Leigh, has added a level of consistency to Halifax's undoubted ability. "I knew there were good players here who would score plenty of tries and that, if we got the defence right, we could go places," he said.

"We're only halfway through the season, but we're getting up to the right level. Even in the matches we've lost, they have been close games that could have gone either way."

The first thing Simms did at Thrum Hall was to scrap the defensive system that Halifax had used under Reilly, and introduce a new pattern. The risk was that it could have made matters worse before it made them better, but Halifax soon reaped the benefit.Their points against column is the best in the division - better even than Wigan's.

With the pace of players like John Bentley, Mark Preston and the vastly improved former All Black, John Schuster, in the backline, scoring tries, often from spectacularly long range, was never going to be a problem.

Allied to their new organisational solidity, that attacking potency makes them genuine contenders for honours and suggests that enticing Simms across the Pennines was one of the club's wisest moves of recent years.

Simms still lives in the Leigh area and has an obvious soft spot for a club whose results he still looks for first. "But," he says, "opportunities like the one at Halifax don't come along very often and, when they do, you have to take them. I was quite proud of what we achieved at Leigh, but the money situation was just wearing them down."

Simms wore them down a little further, but put some money in his old club's coffers by signing their two most promising young players, Paul Rowley and Simon Baldwin, both of whom have made a rapid impact at Thrum Hall.

"They are two of the most outstanding 19-year-old players in the country," said Simms, whose record, both with South Sydney and Leigh, suggests that he is at his best and happiest grooming and encouraging players at that early stage of their careers.

His tenure at Halifax hints that he might yet be equally adept at bringing the best out of highly experienced professionals. Schuster and the Great Britain prop, Karl Harrison, to name but two, have never played better than they are doing at the moment, while others, like the former Welsh rugby union international Paul Moriarty and Gary Divorty, are showing distinct signs of reviving past glories.

Simms has been described as a poor man's John Monie (the ex-Wigan coach) and there is something in the comparison. Like Australia's most successful coaching export to Britain, he commands respect for the analytical approach he employs in place of the bluster and hyperbole that many of their British counterparts see as a pre-requisite for the job.

Halifax are thriving on the formula and could continue to do so at Headingley today.