Halifax Panthers were Wembley winners for the first time in 36 years as they won the AB Sundecks 1895 Cup in dramatic fashion with a 12-10 victory over West Yorkshire rivals Batley Bulldogs in front of thousands of emotional fans in blue and white.
Louis Jouffret was the matchwinner and Man of the Match as his conversion and 3 penalty goals proved the difference as the Panthers survived an almighty late scare from the Bulldogs after the full time hooter had sounded.
Things couldn’t have started better for Fax as after leading his players out underneath the Wembley arch, Captain Brandon Moore scored the opening try of the final after only 108 seconds with a now signature dummy half barge over the line right in front of the ecstatic Panthers travelling army. Jouffret’s simple conversion putting Fax 6-0 up before Batley had any meaningful possession.
The Panthers utterly dominated the first 40 minutes in terms of territory and possession but although Ben Kavanagh and the impressive Brandon Pickersgill were held up over the line, it was only a Louis Jouffret penalty that Fax had to show to add to their lead at the break 8-0.
The second half was a much more tense affair with the massive Wembley pitch and the cup final atmosphere making it a cagey, chess match.
Jouffret kept the scoreboard ticking over, punishing Batley’s lack of discipline converting two long range penalties to put the score at 12-0 going into the last quarter. The Panthers decided against opportunities to pop over a drop goal to put a three score advantage on the board over the Bulldogs and it was a decision that nearly backfired massively.
A loose Ryan Lannon offload coming out of yardage was intercepted by ex Fax Man Ben White, giving Batley the opportunity for a rare visit into Fax’s 20 where an outrageous Josh Hodson offload put Dale Morton in on the right, Luke Hooley’s conversion put Batley within a converted score of drawing level at 12-6.
Fax still couldn’t put the game to bed, a resurgent Bulldogs defensive effort and unforced errors meant that going into the final minute, the game was still in the balance when Batley had the ball in the Panthers 20m. In scenes reminiscent of the iconic “Wide to West try, the Bulldogs threw hail Mary pass after miracle ball, kicking to the corner and punching the ball away when after the full time hooter had sounded, ex Fax Man Dane Manning fed Hooley who handed off to Elliott Kear to score in the corner one of the all time great Wembley tries, potentially take the cup final into extra time in a game that Halifax never looked like losing.
Wembley is a stage where heroes can be made but also the most brutal stage for those that fail. It was the latter for Luke Hooley, usually deadly accurate with the boot, his touchline conversion attempt was pulled wide sparking wild scenes of celebration, relief and disbelief from the Panthers players, fans and staff alike as Fax ended a 36 year wait for a Wembley cup final win.
There wasn’t a dry blue and white eye in the house as Brandon Moore and the players made their way up to the Royal Box to lift the AB Sundecks 1895 Cup before going back onto the pitch to celebrate with the thousands of fans who had travelled down to create a carnival atmosphere.
The biggest cheer of the day reserved for outgoing Head Coach Simon Grix who lifted the cup to have a much deserved trophy in his legacy as Halifax boss thanks to the final scoreline of Halifax Panthers 12-10 Batley Bulldogs.
Pickersgill, Walmsley, Maizen, McComb, Saltonstall, Jouffret, Woodburn-Hall, Calcott, Moore, Murray, Kavanagh, Gee, Fairbank
Subs: O’Brien, Tangata, Lannon, Larroyer
Tries: Moore (2)
Goals: Jouffret 1/1
Penalties: Jouffret 3/3
Hooley, Morton, Hodson, Kear, McGowan, Meadows, Woods, Gledhill, White, Brown, Manning, Buchanan, Reilly
Subs: Leak, Flynn, Ward, Kibula
Tries: Morton (64), Kear (80)
Goals: Hooley 1/2
Ray French Medal Winner (Man of the Match): Louis Jouffret
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