St Helens visited the Shay tonight to face Halifax Panthers for the first time in over 20 years and they dished up a brilliant game.
The sides hadn’t faced each other since the 2019 Challenge Cup semi-finals when Saints ended the Panthers brilliant cup run at Bolton’s stadium on a muddy and wet day.
Conditions for tonight’s clash were far better and with over 1,100 travelling St Helens fans and huge home support it made for a brilliant atmosphere with 4,693 in attendance.
The World Club Champions saw the return of some key stars including Morgan Knowles, returning from his ban, and the likes of Ignatius Paasi and Sione Mata’utia to create a fearsome forward pack.
🔙 Morgan Knowles, Joey Lussick and Sione Mata'utia return to the starting 13, and Iggy Paasi is on the bench
— St.Helens R.F.C. (@Saints1890) May 19, 2023
Hosts Halifax made three changes but stars Louis Jouffret and Lachlan Walmsley were both present, the latter having scored 19 tries already this season.
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Here's how the Panthers will start tonight's @TheChallengeCup tie at The Shay
— Halifax Panthers 🐾 (@HalifaxPanthers) May 19, 2023
Early opener for Saints
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.
Two in two minutes
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.
Halifax halted on half-time
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.
Super Jack strikes
The ball was handed to Saints following Tangata’s knock-on from kick-off and that allowed 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.
Wild ten minutes
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.
Late try trade-off
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.
Last Minute Handbags with Knowles seeing red
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, hard and late 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 26 man pile in with tempers raised to end the game.
"That was a bad one, and they're all in there now!" 👀
Tempers flared late on as Morgan Knowles was sent off for St. Helens 🟥 pic.twitter.com/m9lF2lW36q
— Viaplay Sports UK (@ViaplaySportsUK) May 19, 2023
Fax lose star man early
Saints dominated the territory and the ball but Halifax saw their key man Joe Keyes exit the field after just 10 minutes using his shirt as a makeshift sling. He was one of a few in the Panthers side with Super League experience and losing him so early on effectively ended any hopes of the upset. It was later confirmed by the doctor that he’d torn his left pectoral muscle, a potentially big blow for the Panthers long term Championship hopes.
Errors early on
There was a huge number of handling errors in the first 20 minutes. Whilst Saints dominated the territory they didn’t make the most of it. Knock-ons and the failure to utilise set restarts was a key feature of what was a scrappy first quarter.
Louis Jouffret is Super League level
He might have ended up on the losing side but Louis Jouffret was one of the standouts at the Shay tonight. The Frenchman lined up opposite one of the best halves in Super League in Jonny Lomax but he certainly didn’t look out of place, not least because he was without his half-back partner Joe Keyes for 70 of the 80 minutes.
The game was always going to be tough for Halifax given the difference in levels of quality but they made it that much tougher by committing penalty after penalty, and offering up repeat set after repeat set.
Knowles set for another ban
Having just made his return from a five game ban it could be a case that Morgan Knowles cops another big ban for his late red card. Leading by 20 points with just 20 seconds to go Knowles was late around the head of Inman and it’s one that the disciplinary panel will certainly be looking at.
1 Woodburn-Hall – 7
2 Walmsley – 6
3 McComb – 7
4 Tibbs – 5
5 Saltonstall – 5
6 Jouffret – 8
7 Keyes – NA
16 Calcott – 5
9 Moore – 6
10 Murray – 6
12 Gee – 5
19 Lannon – 6
13 Fairbank – 6
8 Tangata – 6
20 Inman – 5
21 Doro – 6
31 Larroyer – 6
1 Welsby – 9
2 Makinson – 8
3 Hopoate – 7
21 Davies – 6
25 Ritson – 6
6 Lomax – 7
7 Dodd – 6
8 Walmsley – 8
14 Lussick – 8
13 Knowles – 7
11 Mata’utia – 6
12 Batchelor – 6
19 Bell – 7
5 Bennison – 6
17 Paasi – 6
18 Wingfield – 7
30 Delaney – 8
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