Super League´s involvement in the 2023 Challenge Cup kicked off with the potential for a giant killing in Halifax as the Panthers took on the World Champions St Helens in a round six game at The Shay in front of the cameras from ViaPlay Sport.
The bookies had gone all in for a Saints win, banishing all thoughts of an upset, and with Saints having won the last fifteen consecutive encounters with the side from Halifax. You must look back twenty-five years for the last Halifax victory over the Saints, and to 1987 for the last time that Halifax beat them in the cup, on that occasion in the final at Wembley.
Anything but a large Saints win was unthinkable.
Saints had first use of the ball, but it was a good defensive set from the Panthers which saw them kicking inside their own half on the last, it was clear early on that the Panthers weren’t going to die wondering.
With five minutes on the clock Saints went over, the referee indicating a try but sending the decision to the video referee who ruled that James Bell was held up over the line. Three tackles later Joey Lussick went from dummy half and grounded the ball on the line for the opening try of the game. Tommy Makinson was off target with his conversion attempt.
Sione Mata´utia lunged for the line off a Jonny Lomax pass but the Panthers did well to dislodge the ball as the second rower was in the act of scoring, Halifax showing determination.
On twenty-five minutes Jake Wingfield crashed the Halifax line for the second try of the game as he took a Lussick pass at first receiver. Makinson hit the mark with his conversion attempt for a 10-0 lead.
A minute later and Makinson added the third as he took a long pass, stepped inside twice and dove over the line. Makinson added the conversion for 16-0, Saints now easing away from the Championship side with a sixteen-point half time lead.
It was way too easy for Jack Welsby on forty-two as he danced his way through the Halifax defence to score in the right-hand corner. Makinson was unable to add the conversion from wide.
It had been a better second half showing from Halifax but on sixty-eight the Halifax defence opened up to allow Lussick the simplest of second tries as he went through a big gap after again scooting from dummy half. Makinson hit the target with the conversion for 26-0 with ten minutes remaining.
Halifax avoided being nilled on seventy-four as they ripped through the Saints centre field and went in under the sticks, Jacob Fairbank getting the ball five from the line and scoring under the sticks. Louis Jouffret added the conversion for 6-26.
A late and high tackle from Morgan Knowles in the dying seconds saw him red-carded, continuing a poor disciplinary record to the frustration of his coach.
All credit to Halifax who minimised the damage, but who were never going to trouble a Saints side who despite being without four key players still ground out a comfortable win. Despite never really hitting their straps, and running little more than luke warm at times, Saints are through into the quarter finals and will be joined by Hull KR and Leigh Leopards, tonight’s other victors.
Halifax Panthers: Woodburn-Hall, Walmsley, Tibbs, McComb, Saltonstall, Jouffret (G), Keyes, Calcott, Moore, Murray, Lannon, Gee, Fairbank (T). Subs: Inman, Doro, Tangata, Larroyer. 18th Man: Maizen.
St Helens: Welsby (T), Ritson, Davies, Hopoate, Makinson (T, 2G), Lomax, Dodd, Walmsley, Lussick (2T), Knowles (SO on 79), Mata´utia, Batchelor, Bell. Subs: Bennison, Wingfield (T), Paasi, Delaney. 18th Man: Royle.
Score Progression: 0-4, 0-8, 0-10, 0-14, 0-16 : HT: 0-20, 0-24, 0-26, 4-26, 6-26, (SO) : FT.
Lead Exchanges: St Helens.
Referee: Aaron Moore.