IT WAS not long ago that Halifax coach Richard Marshall told his players they had to take a pay-cut due to crippling financial constraints yet now he has seen them produce one of the most remarkable tales of the season.
Back in November, the squad was informed the Championship club required them to take a 10 per cent reduction in wages after a failure to reach the Qualifiers last year left a budget shortfall.
However, all but one of them agreed and, nine months on, they will now be repaid what was held back after securing a top-four place in stunning style.
They beat leaders Hull KR 28-6 on Sunday to complete a dramatic four-game winning run and surge into the Qualifiers.
In three successive weeks, each time knowing defeat would end their hopes, the part-timers defeated top-four rivals having also won in Toulouse and at Featherstone Rovers.
Toulouse beating Featherstone on Saturday night meant the French side would claim fourth if Halifax lost to Hull KR who had only been beaten twice all season.
However, they produced a brilliant performance so, instead of facing Oldham and Swinton in the Championship Shield, will tomorrow discover details of fixtures with Warrington Wolves and Catalans Dragons.
“It’s been a bit of a stressful weekend if I’m honest,” Marshall told The Yorkshire Post.
“I was probably more nervous listening to the Toulouse score but once that was sorted we had to focus on what we could.
“I was really confident in the lads and they wanted to do it the hard way not the easy route.
“They’ve been like that all year. At the end, we were elated.
“It’s a massive achievement; to win our last four games – Bradford as well – knowing they were all must-win and to peak at the right time like that was terrific.”
Asked what it was like last autumn telling his squad that dire news, Marshall admitted: “Initially, it was horrendous.
“For a young coach who’d put together a squad to hear the team was going to be pulled apart wasn’t great at all.
“But I came back to the board with a proposal and thank goodness they took it as the other one wasn’t very nice at all.
“I was adamant that we should keep the Reserve Grade side.
“But then having to chat with the senior players and tell them we wouldn’t be able to honour their contracts – some of which had only just been signed – and they could leave if they wanted, I could see it all being unpicked.
“We only lost Dane Manning, though, and it was agreed that if we did get in the top-four they would get that money back.”
The 41-year-old continued: “It was 10 per cent from every department – off the field as well as on it – so everybody took a hit.
“I lost my two assistants and a doctor and essentially we were left with 24 players including three kids. We developed a good relationship with Salford Red Devils, though, which helped us out and the squad’s been great.
“Now we’re looking forward to the Qualifiers.”
First, though, Marshall will seek to get his plans for 2018 in place. The coach, in his third season at The Shay, said: “We’ve had issues trying to get players signed up for next season.
“We’ve been holding off to see where we ended up as that would dictate what the budget would be again. There was a Plan A and a Plan B. We’re in Plan A now. Plan B wasn’t looking nice but we don’t have to worry about that now.
“So, this week, we’ll certainly start getting them signed up. Everyone I’ve spoken to is really happy and wants to stay. That’s great.”
Just as outlandish as Halifax’s late surge to the Qualifiers is the fact that Warrington – who reached the Grand Final and Wembley last year – are in the same competition having finished ninth in Super League.
Marshall, who hails from Warrington and won the Challenge Cup three times with them as Tony Smith’s assistant, said: “Last year Leeds were in the Qualifiers and we were gutted we didn’t get to play them. But now we get to face Warrington. I was assistant there for many years and had a fantastic time but that will be put to one side when we go there.
“We’re looking forward to going toe-to-toe with sides like that, Catalans, Widnes and Leigh.
“If I said we were ready for Super League I’d be fibbing.
“But one to 17 I know we don’t have to be daunted by what’s coming.”
Meanwhile, after Hull KR chairman Neil Hudgell took to social media to decree speculation his club had “thrown” the game in order to avoid visiting Toulouse in the Qualifiers, Marshall said: “No one has ever taken to the field with that attitude or mentality.
“There might be a mentality of self-preservation and looking after your body for what’s to come but I can tell you no way was that the case with Hull KR on Sunday.
“We flew out of the blocks and strangled them in that first 10 minutes. We took our opportunities and they couldn’t stop us but it happens sometimes. London did it to us earlier this season.
“KR had a new half-back in, a few other players coming back from long-term injuries and some others missing but we were just the better side; we’ve got the best defence in the competition and that unnerves teams.”