THE EXPECTATION is this could be an outstanding season in the Championship and Halifax and Featherstone Rovers set the bar very high in week one.
Halifax hit back from 14-0 down after only 23 minutes to lead twice in the second half before Rovers sealed a dramatic 32-26 success with a late try.
It was a pulsating, end-to-end thriller and both teams suggested they will be in the mix for a top-four spot when the competition splits after 23 rounds.
Featherstone are fancied to secure a place in the Qualifiers for the second successive season and they were impressive early on.
Halifax struggled with the visitors’ pace and the options created by halves Anthony Thackery and Matty Wildie, but once they worked their way into the contest they forced a series of errors and Steve Tyrer and Shane Grady, in particular, put them in a position to snatch the points.
Luke Briscoe opened the scoring and Josh Hardcastle, the former Featherstone Lions back signed following an impressive pre-season trial, added a second.
Briscoe’s sizzling break set up a try for Ash Handley, converted by Ian Hardman, but Halifax’s fightback began when Jacob Fairbank touched down from Ben Kaye’s kick, which rebounded off a post, Steve Tyrer converting.
Hardman landed a penalty, but Halifax scored three tries in eight minutes either side of the break, through Rob Worrincy, Adam Tangata and Scott Murrell.
Two more Tyrer goals made it 22-16, but Hardcastle got Rovers back into it with his second try and ‑ after Halifax’s Mitch Cahalane had been sin-binned for a high tackle on Chris Ulugia - substitute Kyle Briggs edged them back ahead with two penalties.
Tyler touched down with 14 minutes left to open a two point advantage, but he could not convert and Halifax opted not to go for goal with a penalty following a brawl which was placed on report.
Almost immediately Featherstone equalised again through Briggs’s third penalty kick and then Anthony Thackery’s up and under bounced off Frankie Mariano’s head to Briggs, who reacted quickly to touch down and completed the scoring with the conversion.
Rovers coach Jon Sharp admitted the result could have gone either way, but he said: “We executed unbelievably well early on. We knew Halifax would have their say, but fortunately we remained composed at the very end.”
Rovers were without Richard Moore, Scott Turner and Jason Walton, who were all forced to withdraw late on due to injury or illness.
Sharp added: “The attitude and positivity of everybody was brilliant. Hardcastle came in at the last minute, he was playing for Featherstone Lions six months ago, but he looked so comfortable, he really looks like he belongs at Championship level.”
Halifax coach Richard Marshall was more upbeat than down after his team’s rollercoaster performance.
He said: “We put ourselves in a position to lose that game, then draw it and then win it in both halves.
“We lacked some smarts. I thought Thackery controlled the game well for them and his kicking game was a lot better in the first half.
“We had a lot of opportunities and I am not too despondent because I thought our effort was fantastic against a very strong Featherstone team.
“But we need to win games. If we are going to do what we want to do this year, we have to win games at home.”
Halifax: Robinson, Saltonstall, Tyrer, Heaton, Worrincy, Murrell, Johnston, Ambler, Kaye, Cahalane, Grady, Grix, Fairbank. Substitutes: Tangata, Boyle, Barber, Mammone.
Featherstone Rovers: Hardman, Handley, Briscoe, Ulugia, Hardcastle, Thackery, Wildie, Bostock, Carlile, Baldwinson, Davies, Mariano. Tagg. Substitutes: Briggs, Griffin, Walters, Ormondroyd.
Referee: J Child (Batley).