Simon Grix pleased with 'happy' changing room as Halifax Panthers battle back to beat Batley Bulldogs
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Fax recovered from 4-16 down just before the half-time hooter to win 20-16 thanks to tries from James Woodburn-Hall, Lachlan Walmsley and James Saltonstall.
Walmsley had initially given the home side an early lead but a trio of tries from Dale Morton, Aidan McGowan and Samy Kibula put Craig Lingard’s men in the driving seat until Woodburn-Hall’s effort just before the interval got the Panthers back into the game.
Walmsley’s exceptional interception and solo run got them back to within two points before fellow winger Saltonstall completed the comeback.
After the game, Grix said: “The changing room is happy, which is really nice to see. It was a really good battle and the big thing for us is knowing that the character and ability and desire to keep turning up for each other is there because that’s the thing that’s been missing.
“The same issues were there for us - we let them out of their end too easily through our indiscipline and we invited their points on us I thought. But we completed really high, which is something we haven’t done.
“We were in it. We were just points on the scoreboard down in the first half. I thought their tries were average. They weren’t really breaking us down with the system stuff. They got a barge over and the one in the corner (Dale Morton) wasn’t a try. That was a bit of a shocker from the referee. I have the beauty of a playback and can see that he lands on top of the corner flag and his arm is outside the field of play. That was an interesting call.
“But you’ve got to remember that Batley are a really good team. I’m not bothered what anyone says, they know how to grind a game and stay in it and I thought they did that.
“But the scoreline didn’t worry me too much because I thought we were in it. We were definitely in the fight and when it became a grind, and we actually put a few sets together rather than coming up with penalties and yardage, that’s when Batley wilted I think and we came up with some good stuff.”
Both sides have had a mixed start to the 2023 Championship season but Fax managed to return to winning ways following their heavy defeat to Widnes in round four.
And Grix admitted the two points picked up against the Bulldogs, to make it three wins out of three on home soil, was just what was needed. He said:
“It was two teams in a similar boat in a sense of confidence not probably where it needs to be and expectations are really high among both teams because of what we’ve done in recent years. In the end, it could have gone either way, however, I thought we showed a good amount of character and enough quality at the right times to come away with the points.
“It was a grind of a game but we are not a bad team. Confidence is just a bit of a funny thing at times. It can do strange things to your mindset and little problems can become really big problems, when really, losing a couple of games of rugby is not the end of the world, particularly at this time of the year when you’ve got a lot of time to find your way.
“Hopefully we have found something there. There was a stage in the second half where the fatigue had kicked in but we kept turning up for each other and showed some togetherness which was really important.
“We just had enough quality at the right times, like Lachlan (Walmsley) with the intercept when that could have been a try.
“We’ll breathe and move on. After getting a bit of a hiding at Widnes, and not being at the races, we needed a win just to quieten things off and feel good about ourselves.”
Walmsley’s fantastic interception was his second of the game, and eighth of a productive season. On the Scotland international’s performances so far, Grix said:
“What I like about Lachlan is that he came down from Whitehaven and had to get used to how we do things. He was behind for a little bit and then he got in and stayed in. He did a great job last year. He was very important.
“He is a very good try scorer. He has got his faults but he is still learning and there is a lot of improvement in him still to come which is obviously really good. He is showing his toughness and desire and he has really bought in to what we are about at Halifax.
“He has got his qualities. When he came up with the intercept, that probably gave us the confidence boost we needed at the time. If they’d have run a try in there we might have felt it a little bit.
“Going from your own 10 to their try line is a big thing and having that in your team is a big plus.”
Grix made a few tweaks to last Monday’s side, including Kyle Wood appearing at scrum half in place of Joe Keyes who failed an HIA in the Widnes defeat, while Ryan King made his first start for the club following his move from Whitehaven.
“Kyle Wood did a great job in the halves,” Grix said. “He has not played there for a long time. That was a big plus for us. He was really good. To go in and play seven when you haven’t done it for a long while and be the one to manage it, particularly when Keyesey has been doing it, and been doing a good job, there was a little bit of pressure there for him.
“But he didn’t show it all and he took it all in his stride. I was happy with Woody.
“Kingy came in. He’s come down from Whitehaven and he hasn’t found his way in yet and that’s down to some very little things that take effort in training. He’s still working and he still needs to improve but he showed some of his qualities today - powerful and could break tackles.
“I think it is just making sure he gets on board with things we really value at Halifax which we haven’t seen enough of previously, when Kav (Ben Kavanagh) and Matty Gee have been doing it. We’re not giving shirts away. If two blokes are doing the job well, you’re going to struggle to get yours.
“He got his opportunity today and I think it went pretty well. Hopefully it gives us something to build on because he is a powerful athlete and can do some pretty good things - that’s been there all along.
“The little things that no-one really sees - the running back onside, fast; the tying in, fast; the kick pressure - all those bits that are valued by next-to-no-one outside of these four walls, they’re the things that are really important to us and that is something he needs to be better at.
“He is not on his own though. That has been the issue so far. Hopefully he has taken some steps forward today.”