Halifax Panthers produced a gritty, united performance full of character to produce a cup shock by dumping heavy favourites Featherstone Rovers out of the Betfred Challenge Cup. A ‘classic cup match’, the tie was back and forth and in the balance all the way until Louis Jouffret stepped through a defence expecting a drop goal to score the tie winning try.
Some bookies were giving Fax as much as 20 points head start before the game, such has been Fev’s dominance in 2023 so far including a 46-22 defeat of the Panthers in the league on the same ground a few weeks previous. When Josh Hardcastle claimed a cross-field kick to score after 10 minutes with Craig Hall converting, it seemed to be the same old story.
However, the Panthers rallied and after Matty Gee stormed onto a short ball from Jouffret to strike back, Lachlan Walmsley took the lead for Fax. Coming from a now expected move from an attacking scrum position, Fax showed great hands and guile shifting the ball in motion creating the overlap for Walmsley to creep down the touchline to take the lead for Fax. Unusually though, the returning Joe Keyes was having an off day with the boot, missing both conversions, so it was a slender lead of 6-8 that the Panthers held after the first quarter.
The game remained competitive for both sides, but Fax had a golden chance to assert some dominance before the break. Captain Brandon Moore scorched out of dummy half from 30m out spying a gap in the Rovers defence and looked for all money to score by the posts. But Hall came out of nowhere to challenge and in the eyes of referee Liam Moore dislodge the ball from the Hooker’s grasp just before the line. Fax did improve their lead right on the half time hooter though, as Walmsley was the victim of a late tackle by the Fev defence. It was Jouffret who this time managed to bang over the 2 points from 35m out for a slender but important half time lead for Fax of 6-10.
The hoodoo that Featherstone have held over Fax since 2017 at Post Office Road looked to be continuing after the break as less than 5 minutes in Thomas Lacans stepped past through the Fax defence to score for Fev. Hall’s boot put the Rovers 12-10 up and even going up the slope the momentum was with the home side.
But the character of this Panthers side cannot be underestimated. After a simple penalty from Jouffret put Fax back level after Rovers were pulled for crossing, the visitors soon took the lead.
A try crafted in Halifax as the impressive Will Calcott’s drive and quick play the ball created the space for replacement hooker Tom Inman to scoot out from dummy half to score a much deserved try both individually and as a team. Jouffret’s conversion put Fax 12-18 up with just over 20 mins left.
But back came Fev again to set up a nail biting finish. Inevitably an ex-Fax player doing the damage with Gadwin Springer charging over by the posts, Hall’s conversion brought the sides level at 18-18 with 15 minutes to go. His drop goal attempt with 10 minutes to go might have been crucial if it hadn’t have trickled along the ground and over the dead ball line.
This proved crucial as a couple of minutes later with Fax camped inside Fev’s 20m and most inside Post Office Road expecting the ball to go to Keyes for the one pointer, Brandon Moore went blind to Jouffret, who dummied and dived over the line for what turned out to be the tie winning try for Fax.
His missed conversion still gave Fev a chance at 18-22, but the Panthers defended desperately yet heroically till the end. The sound of the hooter after countless sets on their own line brought emotional scenes of celebration and relief from the players. Not least Jacob Fairbank who on his 200th Fax appearance was named Betfred Man of the Match, the local hero helping his teammates, club and town into the draw for the next round of the Cup. Featherstone Rovers 18-22 Halifax Panthers.
Hall, Briscoe, Leilua, Hardcastle, Gale, Lacans, Wildie, Spriner, Jones, Cozza, Day, Bussey, Taylor
Subs: Davies, Yei, Fleming, Moors
Tries: Hardcastle (8), Lacans (44), Springer (63)
Goals: Hall 3/3
Sent Off: Hardcastle (75)
Woodburn-Hall, Walmsley, Maizen, McComb, Saltonstall, Jouffret, Keyes, Maher, Moore, Murray, Kavanagh, Gee, Fairbank
Subs: Inman, Calcott, Tangata, Doro
Tries: Gee (14), Walmsley (21), Inman (55), Jouffret (73)
Goals: Keyes 0/2, Jouffret 1/2
Penalty: Jouffret 2/2