Halifax Panthers bounced back in style after a disappointing performance last week, securing a commanding victory over the struggling Newcastle Thunder in the Betfred Championship. The Panthers dominated the match, scoring a remarkable nine tries to secure a resounding win.
Head coach Simon Grix implemented multiple changes to the team that suffered a scoreless defeat against Batley Bulldogs in the previous fixture. Notable alterations included the inclusion of Brandon Pickersgill as the fullback, making his first start at The Shay in Panthers colours.
However, the home side faced a late setback as James Woodburn-Hall, originally slated to feature in the halves alongside Louis Jouffret, succumbed to back spasms. As a result, Tom Inman was called upon with just ten minutes’ notice to take his place in the lineup.
Despite the eleventh-hour change, the young Inman rose to the occasion and delivered a stellar performance, earning himself the well-deserved Man of the Match accolade while staking his claim for a regular spot in the team.
In the early stages of the game, both teams struggled to assert dominance, resulting in a closely contested battle. Newcastle Thunder’s resilient defence limited the Panthers to a mere 4-0 lead for the first half-hour of play.
Nonetheless, Halifax Panthers broke the deadlock after nine minutes when Inman and Jouffret combined effectively, creating an opportunity for Ben Crooks to surge through the opposition defence and score his first try in Panthers colours. Although Jouffret missed the subsequent conversion attempt, he would soon find his rhythm, ultimately kicking seven successful conversions out of nine.
The match gradually turned in favour of the Panthers as they showcased their attacking prowess. Crooks, having already found the try line, turned provider with a sensational assist, flicking the ball behind his back to set up Lachlan Walmsley for his 29th league try of the season. Walmsley, exhibiting remarkable agility, evaded a potential tackle before cutting back inside to score.
Just three minutes later, James Saltonstall provided another exceptional assist, enabling Gideon Boafo to create an opening for Matty Gee, who effortlessly crossed the try line. Jouffret’s conversion widened the lead to 16-0, further bolstering the home side’s confidence.
Thunder, determined to mount a comeback, scored two converted tries through Jay Chapelhow shortly after the break, narrowing the gap to just 12 points. However, the Panthers swiftly regained control with two tries in a four-minute flurry. Pickersgill initiated a promising attack, resulting in Walmsley executing a spectacular diving finish in the corner. Soon after, Dan Murray capitalised on a spilled kick to secure his first try of 2023.
The Panthers capitalised on their opponents’ misfortunes, as Brad Gallagher was sin-binned for a professional foul on Pickersgill. Exploiting the numerical advantage, Halifax orchestrated a flowing move, allowing Zack McComb to dot down on the right. Ben Kavanagh added to Thunder’s misery with a piercing run from a short ball provided by Inman.
With victory all but assured, captain Brandon Moore bulldozed his way over from dummy half in the 77th minute, enabling Jouffret to complete a routine conversion and propel the Panthers to an impressive 50-point mark. This triumph propelled Halifax Panthers into the semi-finals of the AB Sundecks 1895 Cup, boosting morale within the squad.
The final score reflected the Panthers’ dominance, with Halifax Panthers emerging triumphant with a convincing 50-12 victory over Newcastle Thunder. The Panthers’ comprehensive performance showcased their attacking flair and defensive prowess, reigniting hopes of a successful season ahead.