ALTHOUGH Halifax have arguably benefitted more than anyone from the Qualifiers system, ironically, the Championship club are also pretty happy with the return to a traditional method of promotion and relegation.
Richard Marshall’s side host Super League champions Leeds Rhinos tomorrow, just the sort of glamorous fixture they have grown accustomed to since the ‘Middle Eights’ began in 2015.
Despite their part-time status, Halifax have finished in the top-four of the Championship and, with it, reached the Qualifiers in three of its four years.
Granted, they have still yet to defeat a Super League side during that time and tomorrow will be the 12th and final attempt before the format is disbanded.
However, for the West Yorkshire club, not hamstrung by a pressing need for promotion, the experiences have certainly been rich and rewarding.
Presently, Super League’s bottom four and the leading Championship quartet enter a round robin with the top three plus the winners of the ‘Million Pound Game’ – fourth versus fifth – all securing places in the top flight the following season.
Admittedly, Halifax are bottom of the Qualifiers, finished bottom last year and sixth in 2015 so they have never had a realistic chance of promotion.
In 2019, though, the top-five Championship sides will enter a play-off series to decide their own champions, who are then simply elevated at the expense of the bottom side in Super League. Halifax’s hopes of progression are suddenly far more tangible.
“For us, it does actually look like a more realistic chance of getting promotion,” admitted Marshall, after the proposals were voted through barely a week ago.
“We’re the best part-time team in the Championship this year and finished on the same points as London Broncos and Toulouse.
“So, there’s no reason why we can’t do that next season.
“It will be difficult. We’ll need a bit more funding and probably a couple more players to make that push and, at some point, we probably would have to go full-time.
“I’d certainly like to do that. In the short-term, we’re not going to but we’d need that plan in place ready for if we did go up through the Championship play-offs.”
Marshall believes the latest change in format is a move forward for the sport.
He added: “From a Halifax point of view, the Qualifiers have been really successful the last four years. There’s only been one season where we didn’t make them and with the finances the games bring in and the development of our players playing the likes of Warrington, Catalans and Leeds, it’s ticked all the boxes.
“It’s been fantastic. But for the game as a whole it isn’t really the ideal format. Hull KR have been in the Qualifiers all four years and you can’t really sign players on two or three-year deals if you don’t know what’s happening.
“Leigh have been in there and hit financial problems. From that point of view, going through a play-off system is a little cleaner.”
Halifax, of course, do hold ambitions of eventually returning to Super League where they last featured in 2003 – the last time they also faced Leeds.
Marshall was a top-flight player with them between 1996 and 1999 and recalled: “I remember playing in the team that beat Rhinos 42-0 at The Shay back in 1998 – only for them to beat us in the top-five play-offs the week after.
“We have to put in a really top performance on Sunday. They’re the reigning champions with world-class players and they need this victory to secure their place in Super League next season.
“They’ll be going all out to win and beat Halifax. We’d like to be more competitive. I thought we were in patches against Widnes last week and Hull KR as well so it was just Salford that got away from us. We don’t want that to happen again. It’ll be a bit of a Grand Final for us come Sunday.”
Halifax lost 26-12 at Super League’s bottom club Widnes on Sunday and fell 38-24 at Hull KR before, with the only blow-out being that 62-4 thrashing at the hands of Salford in their last home game at The Shay.
They have still yet to pick up a Qualifiers win in the last two years, something they may yet correct at London Broncos next Saturday.