Halifax left it late to defeat a gritty Sheffield Eagles side with a 26-18 score line, the first opening day victory for the Panthers since 2020 against the same opponents.
What the game lacked in fluidity due to poor discipline in terms of penalties and ball handling by both sides, it more than made up for in tension and entertainment as a crowd of over 2100 witnessed a grandstand finale. Jake Maizen sealing a brace of tries on debut in front of a sea of jubilant limbs in the South Stand at The Shay.
It was the Panthers that looked to shed their skin of slow starts as they quickly raced into a 16-0 lead after less than half an hour.
James Saltonstall finishing off a now typical Fax move off a centre field scrum, Lachlan Walmsley with again, a now typical spectacularly acrobatic finish in the corner, and Jake Maizen snaking his way over on the left flank to put the Panthers firmly in control after the early exchanges. Fax taking advantage of 12 man Sheffield after Brandon Douglas was sinbinned after repeated dissent towards referee Liam Rush.
Joe Keyes converted 2 out of the 3 touchline efforts as Fax looked to cut loose but the Eagles, with returning 2022 Panthers Cory Aston and Titus Gwaze in their ranks, had other ideas.
In a rare venture into the Fax 20m zone, Jack Hansen’s short ball found Aaron Murphy who dived over unopposed from short range. Hanson converted for a half time scoreline of 16-6 to the hosts.
The second half was a nip and tuck affair though as the lack of game time in pre season appeared to snakebite the Panthers on the behind. Although Joe Keyes kicked a penalty on 50 minutes to make it 18-6, it was the Eagles who flew back into the game.
Uili Liu scoring a couple of tries which would have had Simon Grix hissing in disbelief as the usual Boa-like grip in defence was broken by the Scottish International. Hansen converting both scores, which came either side of another Keyes penalty, bringing the score to 20-18 with just 10 minutes to go.
The game was end to end and anyone’s to win until the final minute. With the Eagles attacking the Panthers line and in a mini game of Poker, their calculated twist in throwing the ball out wide in hopes of getting a match winning score backfired. The Snake Eyed James Saltonstall claimed the interception and raced up field before moving through supporting hands, finding Walmsley who was brought down just shy of the Eagles line in front of a raucous South Stand.
With players queueing up on the right, Joe Keyes took control of the ball, dummied and went to the blindside to find an uncovered Jake Maizen, who spat venom at the Eagles by slithering in at the corner to send the Shay into raptures.
Keyes’ touchline conversion putting the game beyond doubt and the Panthers one from one with a 26-18 win.
Woodburn-Hall, Walmsley, Maizen, McComb, Saltonstall, Jouffret, Keyes, Calcott, Moore, Murray, Kavanagh, Gee, Tangata
Subs: Inman, Fairbank, Maher, Larroyer
Tries: Saltonstall (4), Walmsley (21), Maizen (26,78)
Bass, Jones-Bishop, Welham, Oakes, Dawson-Jones, Aston, Hansen, Kirk, Halafihi, Dickinson, Murphy, J Farrell, Gwaze
Subs: Douglas, Wood, Broadbent, Liu
Tries: Murphy (36), Liu (54,69)
Goals: Hansen 3/3
Sin Bin: Douglas (24)
Sponsors Man of the Match: Brandon Moore
Match Sponsors: The Difference Group
Match Ball Sponsors: Riley & Co