Halifax Panthers missed a chance to go joint 2nd in the Betfred Championship table as they fell to a 16-12 defeat away to bottom club Barrow Raiders. With Toulouse Olympique losing the day before, Fax had a great opportunity to pull closer to their promotion rivals but a Jarrod Sammut inspired Raiders side showed their desperation in defence to record their first victory of the season.
Simon Grix decided to rotate his fullbacks with new signing Brandon Pickersgill put straight into the starting line-up at the expense of the impressive James Woodburn-Hall. Elsewhere, Ben Tibbs came in for the injured Lachlan Walmsley and with Fax creating so many attacking opportunities throughout the game that went unfinished, how badly Woodburn-Hall and Walmsley were missed.
It was the Raiders who struck first from captain Jarrad Stack, charging onto a Sammut short pass which bounced off his chest and regathered over the try line. Fax fought back though and after a Louis Jouffret break in midfield, Fax knocked on the door over the next few sets before the Frenchman went over on the left after sustained pressure from Fax.
Keyes missed with the conversion but he created the next score, dummying through the Barrow defence before drawing the full back to give Pickersgill a try scoring debut in Panthers colours. Keyes converted for a 4-10 lead.
It could and perhaps should have been more for the Panthers but chances that were made were blown by poor execution at the critical time and the Raiders made them pay. After another Keyes break led to an Brandon Moore error with the line begging, Pickersgill was beaten to a high bomb by Shane Toal who flicked it out the back for Iain Thornley to score out wide. Sammut missed once again but was successful from the tee to level the scores not long after after a calamitous passage of play from a loose James Saltonstall offload resulted in Tom Inman being offside as he collected the ball and his offload to Pickersgill bounced off the fullback into his arms. Referee James Vella giving a full penalty rather than a scrum for accidental offside and the players went into the sheds all tied up at 10-10 at the break.
Fax earnt a penalty 20m out in front of the posts early in the 2nd as Barrow were caught offside, and rather than keep the ball in hand and go for the try, Keyes took the easy 2 on offer to go 10-12 up.
Then 2 minutes that changed the game as Keyes, who was breaking the Raiders line at will, created a brilliant opportunity for the next score but he kept hold too long and dummied once to often as his pass to Jake Maizen fell forward and hit the deck. Straight from the resulting possession, the kick from Barrow was somehow spilt by Pickersgill and from the resulting scrum, Sammut evaded the tackle of Tom Inman to score what proved to be the match winning try.
His conversion made it 16-12 and thanks to poor execution from a Fax side chasing the game and some desperate, spirited defence from the Raiders, that’s how it stayed at the final hooter.
Broadbent, Bulman, Worthington, Thornley, Toal, Sammut, Johnston, Gillam, Wood, Iaria, Langtree, Stack, Wells
Subs: Carter, Evans, Burke, Brooks
Tries: Stack (4), Toal (33), Sammut (56)
Penalty: Sammut 1/1
Pickersgill, Tibbs, Maizen, McComb, Saltonstall, Jouffret, Keyes, Maher, Moore, Murray, Kavanagh, Gee, Fairbank
Subs: Inman, Tangata, Calcott, Gannon
Tries: Jouffret (12), Pickersgill (23)
Goals: Keyes 1/2
Penalty: Keyes 1/1