Halifax Panthers bowed out of the Betfred Challenge Cup at the 6th Round stage 6-26 against World Club Champions and bookies favourites for the competition St Helens, but not without winning widespread praise for their spirited performance and attitude.
Saints showed total respect for the Panthers with Coach Paul Wellens naming a full strength lineup with those available as the likes of James Roby and Mark Percival were unavailable through injury, but the side full of top internationals and multiple Super League Grand Final wins eventually had too much class and guile for their part time Championship counterparts.
The Viaplay cameras showcased Fax’s heart and desire but ultimately the difference between the Super League and Championship showed as Saints were relentless in defensive pressure and relentless in creating attacking opportunities. Joey Lussick bundled his way over from dummy half after James Bell was denied by the video referee a couple of tackles before. The conversion was missed and at 4-0 the game was a rather balanced affair. But worse news was to come for the hosts as Fax’s influential halfback Joe Keyes had to leave the field with a suspected torn pectoral muscle leaving the Panthers down to 16 men and usual hooker Tom Inman stepping up to take Keyes’ place in the halves.
Many observers would be thinking that the St Helens onslaught would come but the Panthers togetherness shone through as their desperation in defence was causing Saints to miss their chances with ball in hand. Eventually the dam burst as Saints went back to back with Jake Wingfield touching down from a crash ball close to the line before former Golden Boot winner Tommy Makinson finished off a lovely move from midfield as Saints showed their class in execution with ball in hand. Makinson converted both to give Saints a 0-16 half time lead.
Fax did carve out a couple of half chances but were denied by the Saints defence or poor execution, James Woodburn-Hall’s attempted try was pulled back for offside.
The second half saw Saints start quickly again and after Jack Welsby showed his international pedigree to ghost through Fax’s defensive line to score in the corner for a 0-20 advantage, many feared that the usually ruthless Saints would start to run away with the game like they have with countless Super League sides over the past 4 seasons of their title reigns.
However, the Panthers showed they were never going to give up and started to fight their way back into the game, but for a couple of poor executions and the bounce of the ball, they could have really scared the World Champions.
The amount of work defensively finally caught up with them as Joey Lussick claimed his 2nd try of the night with a much easier dive over the line with 10 minutes left which Makinson converted for 0-26.
The loudest cheer of the night from the nearly 5,000 strong crowd came 2 minutes later though as Louis Jouffret found Matty Gee on a great angle, who broke the Saints defensive line, drew Jack Welsby before sending Jacob Fairbank in under the posts in front of the limbs-a-plenty South Stand to give Fax the score their efforts thoroughly deserved. Jouffret added the extras to end the scoring at 6-26 but not the match.
With 30 seconds left on the clock, Fax were working the ball left with Tom Inman when Morgan Knowles, only just returning from a 5 match suspension, caught Inman with a swinging arm directly to the head causing a pile in of Fax bodies to remonstrate with the Welsh turned England international. To his credit, Inman jumped straight up to his feet but after the melee had died down, referee Aaron Moore went straight for his back pocket and brandished the red card, slightly souring Saints performance but not the occasion.
The hooter went with Saints players applauding first the Panthers fans before their own, knowing they had been in a contest. The Saints march onto the last 16 in the Betfred Challenge Cup in the hopes of a Wembley final with the Panthers still in with a shout of Wembley via the 1895 Cup.
Woodburn-Hall, Walmsley, Tibbs, McComb, Saltonstall, Jouffret, Keyes, Calcott, Moore, Murray, Lannon, Gee, Fairbank
Subs: Inman, Doro, Tangata, Larroyer
Try: Fairbank (73)
Goal: Jouffret 1/1
Welsby, Makinson, Hopoate, Davies, Ritson, Lomax, Dodd, Walmsley, Lussick, Knowles, Mata’utia, Bachelor, Bell
Subs: Bennison, Paasi, Wingfield, Delaney
Tries: Lussick (6,68), Wingfield (25), Makinson (27), Welsby (43)
Goals: Makinson 3/5
Sent Off: Knowles (79)