A well taken hattrick from Joe Arundel thanks to an inspired performance from the returning Cory Aston saw the Halifax Panthers overturn a 20-10 half time deficit to defeat the Sheffield Eagles 26-32 at a sunbathed Olympic Legacy Park on Friday night.
Aston, who has spent the majority of 2022 on loan at the Eagles under the tutelage of his Father Mark, was a late addition to the Panthers after the withdrawal of Louis Jouffret due to injury and gave Coach Simon Grix a real headache as he came up with a Man of the Match performance with 4 try assists, a crucial 40/20 and solid efforts in defence.
It was the Eagles who started the match the stronger though, belying the fact it was their 4th game in 13 days. Former Fax props Brandon Douglas and Tyler Dickinson’s strong runs laid the platform for the field position for Sheffield to strike. An uncharacteristic fumble from James Saltonstall, in at full-back for the injured James Woodburn-Hall, gave the opportunity for Kris Welham to twist his way over on the right hand side after less than 5 minutes of play.
Fax weathered the storm though and neat hands found the ball in Ed Barber’s hands down the wing, breaking away before kicking inside for Lachlan Walmsley to chase. Eagles veteran winger Ben Jones-Bishop looked to have done enough to bat the ball dead but the Flying Scotsman managed to acrobatically touch the ball down in the nick of time for the equalising score.
The Panthers went ahead soon after in what was the start of a theme of the match for the Fax attack. Aston going at the line and finding the rampaging Arundel with a well timed short ball for the centre to waltz through and touchdown for his first of three tries. Keyes, off target with his first attempt at goal, found his radar on the 2nd attempt and Fax were 4-10 to the good.
The rest of the first half however belonged to the home side as yet more poor errors from Fax gave the Eagles the field position to take control of the game. A Greg Worthington spillage gave Sheffield a scrum 20m out and a well worked move saw Tom Holmes feed his winger Matty Chrimes, who returned the ball back inside for Holmes to touchdown. Josh Guzdek converted and was on target from the tee a minute later as the Eagles went back to back, this time Holmes was the provider as his inside bomb was inexplicably left to bounce by Walmsley and Ex Fax halfback Anthony Thackeray plundered the 4 pointer. 16-10 to the Eagles and Fax had a job to do.
They thought they had got back into the game when Elliot Morris danced his way through the Eagles defence but his try scoring pass was spilled by Dan Murray with the line begging and the Eagles made them pay. After a great defensive set from the Panthers, Saltonstall tried to force a pass with 0 tackles on the board but it was spilled, giving Holmes the opportunity to crash over on the resulting set with Guzdek’s conversion on the hooter giving Sheffield a well deserved 20-10 half time lead.
The first score of the 2nd half would be crucial and after just 2 minutes, with the words of Simon Grix no doubt still ringing in their ears, it went the way of the Panthers.
Aston’s brilliantly taken 40/20 giving Fax the field position for the returning half-back to loop a pass over the top for another Ex-Eagles man in Zack McComb to tip toe across the touchline to score in the corner. Keyes’ brilliant touchline conversion brought Fax back within a score at 20-14 and the momentum of the match had switched.
It was Aston the architect once again and once again it was a short pass at the line for Arundel to force his way over for his 2nd try of the evening, Keyes converting to take the lead 20-22.
It was Deja vu again with just over 10 minutes to go. Aston once again finding Arundel with a short ball at the line for the in form centre to complete a well deserved hattrick. Keyes couldn’t find the target with the resulting conversion meaning it stayed 20-26 approaching the closing stages.
But it mattered not as the Irish international soon clinched the game with a dummy and burst through the Eagles defence to score off the back of great work from Jacob Fairbank. The conversion brought the score to 20-32 with 10 minutes to go and all the Panthers had to do was see the game out.
Easier said than done though as the Eagles had one last say in the contest. A well taken and deserved try from Douglas gave the Eagles some hope 5 minutes from time. But even with a missed drop goal attempt from Aston, the Panthers held on for an important 26-32 win which keeps a 2 point gap between themselves in 3rd and the Batley Bulldogs in 4th with 4 games left to play in the regular season.
Guzdek, Jones-Bishop, Welham, Bower, Chrimes, Holmes, Thackeray, Douglas, Halafihi, Dickinson, Wood, Farrell, Hodgson
Subs: Kirk, Broadbent, Johnson, Williams
Tries: Welham (5), Holmes (25, 39), Thackeray (28), Douglas (75)
Goals: Guzdek 3/5
Saltonstall, McComb, Arundel, Worthington, Walmsley, Aston, Keyes, Calcott, Moore, Murray, Kavanagh, Barber, Tangata
Subs: Wood, Fairbank, Larroyer, Morris
Tries: Walmsley (15), Arundel (22, 53, 67), McComb (42), Keyes (70)
Goals: Keyes 4/6
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