The final round of the regular season was critical for both sides and the mathematics were a little complicated depending on who you were pulling for as Halifax needed to win and hope that Barrow Raiders lost to York RLFC Knights to get a play-off place, while Swinton Lions needed to avoid losing by more than four points to send Whitehaven down, or do better than Keighley Cougars result, to maintain Championship football for 2024 by the narrowest of margins.
Swinton showed massive character to beat their relegation rivals Whitehaven last week by a single point to grab themselves a massive lifeline, and they would be confident about kicking on from that and spoiling Halifax’s party.
A fifteen-minute delay to the kick-off, to allow half a dozen Halifax players time to negotiate traffic around the ground, added to the pre-match atmosphere.
The Panthers drew first blood as they exploited a frailty down the left side of Swinton with Ben Crooks taking the final pass and crossing as the Swinton defence failed to slide. Louis Jouffret was unable to add the conversion from wide.
There was very little in the game, other than the four points, as the game reached the twenty-minute mark.
Swinton equalised on twenty-one when Mitch Cox chased down a Jordan Gibson grubber and grounded. Dan Abram added the extras for a 6-4 lead to the visitors.
Four minutes later and Swinton were in again, Cox taking a pass from Mick Gregson, who’d beaten his tackler, to cross for his second of the half. Abram again hit the target with his conversion, and at 12-4 it was great news for Swinton and their supporters.
The traffic was all one way when Nick Gregson picked up a loose ball to after a Swinton pass hit a Halifax defender and went for the line to ground. Abram added the conversion for 18-4, Swinton edging closer to survival with a big, and unexpected, half-time lead.
It was the dream start to the second half for Halifax after great pressure from the home side Lachlan Walmsley found space out wide to cross in the corner. Jouffret was unable to add the conversion from the touchline, Swinton still with a ten-point lead.
After being under pressure for the first seven minutes of the half Rhodri Lloyd was released for a run in to the line to score wide, a crucial four-pointer. Abram was wide with the conversion.
Walmsley got his second on sixty-four as he took a flighted pass to again go over in the corner. Jouffret hit the upright with the conversion attempt, Swinton still with a ten-point lead.
Gibson attempted a drop goal on seventy which missed the target, but the ball was touched in flight, forcing a goal line drop out.
As the clock ran down the away support increased in volume, praising a brave performance to take the points and secure survival.
It was heartbreak for Halifax as they missed out on the play-offs, York RLFC Knights sneaking into the top six after starting the day in eighth. Halifax finish a disappointing eighth, but Swinton did exactly what was asked of them and got the win which secures their Championship status and a finishing place of tenth in the table. Keighley’s eight-point loss away to London seals their relegation into League One by virtue of a three-point worse points difference to Whitehaven.
Halifax Panthers: Woodburn-Hall, Walmsley (2T), Crooks (T), McComb, Saltonstall, Jouffret, Keyes, Calcott, Moore, Murray, Kavanagh, Gee, Tangata. Subs: Inman, Larroyer, Lannon, Sutcliffe. 18th Man: Fleming.
Swinton Lions: Abram (3G), Lepori, Badrock, Lloyd (T), Romeo, Butterworth, Gibson, Bennion, Hall, Brogan, Cox (2T), Foster, Gregson (T). Subs: Lowe, Baker, Case, Rodden. 18th Man: Harrop.
Score Progression: 4-0, 4-4, 4-6, 4-10, 4-12, 4-16, 4-18 : HT: 8-18, 8-22, 12-22 :FT.
Lead Exchanges: Halifax – Square – Swinton.
Referee: Matt Rossleigh.