Resurgent Halifax bid for coveted place in top flight

PLAYER-COACH Dave Larder has underlined Halifax's bid for Super League inclusion by saying the club is now in a position to grace the top flight.

The former Keighley back-row, who lifted the Championship trophy last season after helping inspire Halifax's Grand Final comeback against Featherstone Rovers, will start his new coaching career in the season ahead which opens with Friday's Northern Rail Cup fixture at Swinton.

However, 2011 is seen as a pivotal year for Halifax off the field as they press their claims to earn a Super League licence.

Widnes Vikings are deemed favourites to get the nod when the Rugby Football League makes their announcement in March but Larder believes the West Yorkshire club can push them close for that coveted spot.

"This is a massive year for us," he told the Yorkshire Post.

"Obviously, the Super League application has gone in now but whether we're successful or not we have got to make the most of what we achieved last year – winning that Grand Final.

"We'd be stupid not to capitalise on that – hopefully a bigger fan base to target, more sponsorship and investment.

"Since I've been here in the last six seasons the club has come on leaps and bounds.

"We are ready for Super League.

"If we don't get it, we'll just have to keep building until they find it very hard to turn us down."

Stunning favourites Featherstone in September's finale has lifted Halifax, not least the 100,000 winners' cheque which helped ease financial troubles at The Shay.

They also featured in the 2009 Grand Final versus Barrow and Larder reckons, regardless of all the other criteria that needs ticking, such consistency will serve them well.

"I'm a firm believer that the best in any sporting competition should be measured on who's the most successful on the pitch," he added.

"I think it (beating Featherstone) has helped us.

"Getting to one Grand Final and then winning another means we are the most successful club in that criteria currently and we can't afford to sit back now.

"We're looking for a really positive start to the season in the Northern Rail Cup and then on into the Championship."

Larder believes the Championship is a lot stronger since the last time licences were awarded in 2009.

"Widnes were unfortunate to miss out back then but a lot of changes have been made over the last couple of years in the competition," he added.

"Now look at what Barrow can offer as well and us at Halifax.

"I'm pretty confident with what we've done as a club and we can't be far off."

He believes a Halifax presence would augment Super League not just with its playing experience but history as well.

Having featured in the first Super League season in 1996. John Pendulbury guided them up to a highest-ever third place finish two years later.

They were relegated in 2003 but Larder admitted: "If you look at the Halifax team over certainly the early part of Super League they had a really big say in it.

"They finished third and were getting crowds of 10,000.

"The fan base is there but unfortunately in this day and age they want to see top-flight rugby. Certainly if we get the opportunity we'll bring those sorts of numbers through the turnstiles again."

Their failure to ever taste success in the Northern Rail Cup, however, is something which is eating away at head coach Matt Calland's side especially given the disappointing manner in which they exited before even reaching the quarter-finals last year.

Halifax were dumped out by Championship One side Hunslet Hawks in an embarrassing home defeat and Larder concedes it is time for them to redress the balance in 2011 amid the burgeoning tournament.

"I played for Leigh in the 2004 final against Hull KR at Rochdale and there weren't many fans there that day but the competition has grown and grown," he recalled.

"We know that at this level you only have two chances of silverware – the Grand Final and Northern Rail Cup. We've certainly been disappointed not to be involved in those big Northern Rail days out but we'll have a good shot at it this year."

Larder – who turns 35 in June – contemplated retiring at the end of last season and said: "People say it would have been the ideal way to finish off – lifting the trophy in the Grand Final – but Matt's offered me the chance to get involved coaching and you are a long time retired."