IT IS almost becoming expected that part-timers Halifax reach the end-of-season Qualifiers even though, realistically, it is such a mammoth task.
Despite having one of the lowest budgets from sides in the top half of the Championship, Sunday’s win over Rochdale meant they achieved that feat for the third time in four seasons.
Leigh Centurions spent around £1.5m in a bid to win an immediate return to Super League, but stuttered in sixth.
Halifax’s playing budget, in contrast, was less than £400,000, but head coach Richard Marshall has continually gained value for money and instilled a work ethic in the West Yorkshire club that helps reap dividends in more ways than one. They join glossier names in the mix for those chasing promotion, Toronto Wolfpack having swept to top spot with London Broncos and, for the first time, French club Toulouse entering the fray.
Those other three, all full-time operations, have serious ambitions about reaching Super League and ousting one of the bottom four – Widnes Vikings, Salford Red Devils, Hull KR or even defending champions Leeds Rhinos – when the Qualifiers begin shortly.
But Halifax will have their say, too. Marshall said: “We’ve had a really good season. Yes, we’ve been here before but it’s slightly different this year as the competition is a lot stronger than ever before.
“When you factor that in and the fact we’re running a reserve grade side (many Super League sides refuse to), don’t have the biggest squad and are part-time, it is a great achievement for everyone involved.
“But it doesn’t happen overnight. We’ve got a team now made up predominantly of Halifax-born players, a youth set-up that we’re really proud of and some senior players who have been around; we have the mix right for a part-time team.
“And we get the best out of every inch of each player.”
Undoubtedly that is the case and is one of the reasons why Halifax could cause problems for more illustrious rivals in the weeks ahead.
Although they picked up two wins, against Championship rivals Bradford Bulls and Leigh, when Marshall steered them to the Qualifiers in 2015 – the former Warrington assistant’s first term in charge – they failed to register a point last term.
But they have improved and the hope is to actually defeat a Super League opponent.
“We’ve given the players this week off,” said Marshall.
“We know from previous experience that the Qualifiers takes its toll on part-time teams; playing week to week against full-time teams scrapping for survival is tough. We don’t want to make the numbers up. I’ve said that previous times.
“I don’t know if we’re strong enough to make Super League, but anything is possible.
“We need 10 out of 10 from everyone especially at home. We’ve got three home games and we’ve only lost once there all season; teams will be fearful of coming to Halifax.
“However, what has got us to this point won’t keep us there; we have to work harder and get even more out of this team.”
They must do so without Adam Tangata, however, the Cook Islands prop who has suffered a knee injury, which will sideline him for a “sizeable chunk” of the Qualifiers.
Fixtures are announced tomorrow, but Halifax know they will host Leeds, Toronto and Salford with trips to Hull KR, Widnes, London and Toulouse to be factored in. And have that belief anything could happen.