Halifax Panthers fell to a 24-38 defeat to Toulouse Olympique at a sunbathed Shay Stadium on Saturday evening but the result only tells a small part of the story in this quite remarkable Betfred Championship Round 10 clash. Staring down the barrel of a gun after being ruthlessly put to the sword by the Olympians with a 0-30 half time score line, the Panthers roared back into the game with an Ed Barber inspired comeback to 24-30 with just over 10 minutes to go but a Jake Shorrocks penalty and a Dom Peyroux try on the final hooter gave Toulouse the victory in the end.

In truth, a Toulouse victory seemed almost a certainty by the time the half time hooter went as Halifax, missing the outstanding Corey Johnson as he was recalled at late notice by his parent club Leeds Rhinos, put Connor Davies in at 9 and his inexperience showed as Halifax were clunky and ineffective in attack. Toulouse on the other hand were near flawless, teaching Fax a real Rugby League lesson as they ran in 5 easily scored tries off the back of Fax errors or soft defence.

Only 2 minutes were played when off the back of a six again from referee James Vella, Jake Shorrocks dummied through the line and dummied Gareth Widdop to go over unopposed, the half back landing the first of 7 goals on a flawless evening with the boot. There was a brief resistance from the Panthers but the dam burst 10 minutes later. Paul Ulberg crossing from a Maxime Stefani grubber, Lambert Belmas powered over from close range, Calum Gahan pinched one from dummy half and Paul Marcon claiming a crazy Ryan Rivett crossfield kick to put Toulouse 0-30 up at the break.

The Panthers looked dead and buried at half time with the fans thinking after last week’s brilliant performance in victory over Doncaster it was a case of 1 step forwards, 2 steps back.

Liam Finn’s half time team talk must have had the desired effect as Fax came out of the sheds a totally different side. After even more reshuffling as the returning Captain Adam O’Brien was forced from the field for an unpunished high tackle leading to a HIA which he would eventually fail, Louis Jouffret moved up to 9, Widdop moved forward to halfback, James Woodburn-Hall moved back to 1 and Ed Barber went to Centre on his 150th Fax appearance. This proved a master stroke as Fax scored 4 tries in 20 minutes without reply to mount a quite incredible comeback.

First Matty Gee dummied and powered his way through before Ed Barber took over. After a couple of half breaks on the right, the returning veteran scored 2 quick fire tries, firstly rising to claim a Joe Keyes crossfield kick and then dummying his way over shortly after. Barber then laid on a try for James Saltonstall to send a disbelieving Shay crowd into delirium. Jouffret perfect with the boot landed all 4 conversions and all the momentum was with Fax with just over 10 minutes to go with Toulouse wilting in the June sunshine.

However, the French side made the game safe, after Zack McComb brilliantly charged down a Shorrocks drop goal attempt, referee James Vella ruled Fax reefed the ball from the Toulouse tackle and Shorrocks booted the penalty over from 45m to settle the issue. Peyroux crossed on the hooter to give the score line a slightly favourable look to the Olympians.

However, the damage had been done in a shocking first half performance from Fax but surely the second half performance against one of the top Championship sides must give Liam Finn and indeed the players something to build on and believe in for the rest of the season. So close but yet so far for the Panthers with a final scoreline of Halifax 24-38 Toulouse.

Halifax Panthers
Widdop, Saltonstall, Woodburn-Hall, McCormack, Pons, Jouffret, Keyes, Tangata, C Davies, Fairbank, Ruan, Gee, McComb
Subs: O’Brien, Barber, Larroyer, Lannon (18th Man: Hursey)

Tries: Gee (45), Barber (52, 64), Saltonstall (67)
Goals: Jouffret 4/4

Toulouse Olympique
Brochon, Marcon, Jussaume, Rennie, Ulberg, Rivett, Shorrocks, Belmas, Gahan, Hansen, Peyroux, Stefani, Marion
Subs: Pelissier, Roumanos, Biscarro, Lima (18th Man: Dall’asta)

Tries: Shorrocks (2), Ulberg (13), Belmas (19), Gaham (23), Marcon (31), Peyroux (79)
Goals: Shorrocks 5/5
Penalty:  Shorrocks 1/1

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