St Helens booked their place in the Challenge Cup quarter-finals in a classic cup tie in a game that epitomised what the cup is as they battled Championship side Halifax Panthers.
Saints demonstrated the warning signs early on. A high kick was claimed by the Fax full-back but he found himself dragged into touch and from that Saints utilised the territory well. Bell crossed over and was held up but Fax didn’t heed the warning and just a minute later Lussick darted over to open the scoring.
The game was fairly even on the scoreboard for the first 20 minutes but a penalty gave St Helens territory allowing Jake Wingfield to force his way over. Straight from the kick-off the Red Vee went and added another with a Morgan Knowles tackle bust creating space for a cut-out pass from Welsby to Makinson. That saw the game go from 4-0 to 16-0, and beyond Halifax in the space of two minutes.
The Panthers thought they’d puled one back and got back into it just a minute before the half-time hooter when an off-the-cuff kick saw the ball grounded amidst a flurry of bodies. Unfortunately for the Panthers upon the video referee review their chasing full-back was deemed offside, leaving them 16 down at the half.
Later Jack Welsby came into his own. The third try highlighted his brilliant passing ability and potentially wary of that the Panthers stood off him and he sliced them open to score in the corner.
From the moment Welsby scored and effectively killed the game, the game also happened to lose all structure. A huge hit from Doro led to the big man chasing his own kick before being caught yards short of the try line. Fax started to play off-the-cuff rugby and it almost culminated in a Walsmley try but for a brilliant Makinson tackle into touch.
Joey Lussick added his second in the 70th minute and it was almost de ja vu from the first half, another typical darting score. Five minutes later though the Panthers got what they’d thoroughly deserved when Fairbank was there to support the line break and he was rewarded with a try under the posts to drag it back to 26-6.
In the last minute of the game with the score being done and dusted Morgan Knowles, on his return from a five game ban, went high and hard on Inman for a sending off. It was an unnecessary act but was a perfect example of how Knowles plays on the edge. The unnecessary nature of it given how late it was saw a pile in with tempers raised to end the game.
Despite this, it was still a terrific cup tie and helped by an amazing crowd at Halifax, their best of the season so far.
The Shay had 4,639 in attendance which is more than some of the all Super League clashes such as Castleford Tigers vs Hull FC which is the only other game to disclose their attendance of 4,249.
For a ‘smaller club’ and a Championship side, this attendance is fantastic especially because the Panthers also sold out all their hospitality for the first time in 2023.
In a weekend where even Leeds Rhinos vs Wigan Warriors didn’t attract as big a crowd as usual this shows the magic of the cup is still alive and suggests that the Super League clubs need to come into the competition earlier.
Credit too to St Helens fans who took over 1,200 fans across.