Halifax Panthers produce magnificent comeback to defeat Batley Bulldogs

Halifax Panthers produced a magnificent display to overturn a 12-point deficit and beat a brave Batley Bulldogs outfit 20-16 at The Shay.
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Fax found themselves 4-16 down just before the half-time hooter but tries from James Woodburn-Hall, Lachlan Walmsley and James Saltonstall gave Simon Grix’s men a stunning victory.

Batley had produced their own memorable comeback win in round four against Keighley Cougars but, after recovering from Walmsley’s early effort, they could not defend scores from Dale Morton, Aidan McGowan and Samy Kibula, as the Panthers returned to winning ways following their heavy 42-14 defeat at Widnes Vikings on Monday night.

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Grix made a few tweaks to that side as Kyle Wood started in the halves to replace the injured Joe Keyes, who missed out due to the return to play protocol following a failed Head Injury Assessment test, while Dan Murray and Ryan King returned to the pack. Zack McComb was also recalled to the starting 13.

The Shay Stadium, Halifax.The Shay Stadium, Halifax.
The Shay Stadium, Halifax.

And if Fax’s head coach was looking for an instant response to that showing, he certainly received it. There were barely 30 seconds on the clock when Fax forced the game’s first penalty as Batley knocked on before being caught offside after a Saltonstall grubber-kick.

The home side maintained their pressure in the next set as Brandon Moore was held up on the line under the posts. However, not to be deterred, the Panthers deservedly went ahead when they worked the ball to the left before the excellent Woodburn-Hall found Walmsley, who passed his own HIA at Widnes, and the winger did the rest by easily going over, unopposed, in the corner.

The Scotland international has now scored in all five fixtures and also went over first in the defeat at Widnes.

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Fax’s early positivity at the DCBL Stadium was quickly subdued as Widnes fought back courtesy of five first half tries. And it was a similar story here at The Shay against a Batley team who Grix, before the game, had warned of their “togetherness.”

And, unperturbed by the home side’s bright start, the visitors regrouped in typical Bulldogs fashion and turned the game on its head with a trio of terrific tries.

There were warning signs for Fax, however, before Morton eventually levelled the game in the 13th minute.

Woodburn-Hall had to be alert to squirm away from his own goal area after a tidy Meadows grubber-kick before Ben White caused utter chaos following a weaving run and kick which hit the base of the post and bounced around before Walmsley pounced on the loose ball.

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However, play was called back for a Batley penalty for obstruction, which allowed White to have another run before being held up on the line.

You could sense it was coming. But perhaps not in the exceptional circumstances in which it occurred. Morton, who produced the last-gasp drama against the Cougars last weekend, supplied another moment of magic after miraculously going over in the corner, after initially fumbling the ball.

Meadows, who missed the conversion, then found Lucas Walshaw but the second-row couldn’t force himself over. The visitors, however, went ahead in the next play as full-back McGowan, on a season-long loan from Huddersfield Giants, crashed over from close range.

A brief spell of Fax pressure followed as Saltonstall thought he was through for his fourth try of the season but he was brilliantly thwarted by Johnny Campbell.

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At the time, it proved to be a massive tackle as the Bulldogs quickly scored their third try of the afternoon. Kibula, who was at the heart of Batley’s marvellous second half comeback last weekend, extended the lead when he barged over, despite Fax’s claims for an obstruction, for his second try in as many games.

But two tries, just before and after the half-time hooter, changed the complexion of the game as Fax got right back into the contest. Saltonstall, so often on the trysheet, turned provider with a sumptuous inside pass to Woodburn-Hall who went over for his third try of the campaign, seconds before the interval.

And, within a minute of the restart, Walmsley intercepted a Batley attack and ran 90 metres for an incredible individual effort - possibly the best of his eight tries he has now scored in what is turning out to be a very productive campaign.

Louis Jouffret made his first conversion as Fax reduced the deficit to just two points.

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The Bulldogs thought they had extended their lead through James Brown but he was adjudged to have been held up on the line.

And that turned out to be a game-deciding defensive effort as Fax completed the comeback when Woodburn-Hall returned the favour to Saltonstall, who ran in for another try at The Shay, having scored in the previous two home victories already this season against Sheffield Eagles and London Broncos.

Jouffret added the extras as Fax returned to winning ways in stunning style.

Halifax: Woodburn-Hall, Walmsley, Maizen, McComb, Saltonstall, Jouffret, Wood, Calcott, Moore, Murray, Kavanagh, King, Fairbank

Substitutes: Inman, Tangata, Gee, Doro

Tries: Walmsley (2), Woodburn-Hall, Saltonstall

Conversions: Jouffret (2)

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Batley: McGowan, Morton, Kear, Buchanan, Campbell, Meadows, White, Gledhill, Kaye, Brown, Manning, Walshaw, Reilly

Substitutes: Leak, Flynn, Ward, Kibula

Tries: Morton, McGowan, Kibula

Conversions: Meadows (2)

Attendance: 1703

Referee: S Mikalauskas