Halifax Panthers 24, Whitehaven 20

A game too far? Maybe but Gary Charlton's Whitehaven side can only be proud of what they achieved this season.

Going into this 2021 season Whitehaven were written off and were "favourites" to be relegated. But Saturday night at the Shay showed exactly how far this Whitehaven side have come.

They fell agonisingly short of a play-off semi final after a another spirited second half comeback wasn't quite enough as the season ended in front of a passionate nearly 500 hundred fans who made the journey from West Cumbria.

Four tries apiece meant it was conversions that eventually meant Halifax progressed but it was conceding back to back tries that left Haven with a mountain to climb at the halfway point.

Tries in the opening 10 minutes from Connor McGrath and Matt Garside saw them 10 points down in as many minutes. McGrath's score came on the back of a well worked fake kick by the returning Liam Harris. Harris was able to throw a cut-out pass to McGrath who went in unchallenged in the corner.

Harris wasn't able to convert that try but the home side were on the march again straight away.

Haven's first set at the try saw the ball hit the floor only 20 metres away from the try line. An error which was immediately punished. Garside ran a fantastic line and a short pass from Adam Tangata left the Haven defence scrambling and not able to recover. James Woodburn-Hall took over the kicking duties and converted.

At 10 points down a reshuffle was needed for Gary Charlton as he lost Lachlan Walmsley for a head injury assessment, although the Australian who was deputising at full back for the injured Gregg McNally, was able to return to the field later on.

While Walmsley was off the field the visitors scored their first points of the evening. Liam Cooper was the benefactor of a magical offload from James Newton and he touched down.

With Walmsley off the field Louis Jouffret took the kicking duties and converted from just inside the right hand touchline.

Once Walmsley returned the re-shuffle remained in place with Walmsley remaining on the wing, Jouffret staying at full back and Mossop reverting to his more familiar position of centre and Dixon returning to the half-back partnership alongside Nikau Williams.

A four point gap at the break would have been the fair result for Haven's endeavour after going down so early in the contest but another two tries in quick succession saw them going into the break with a 16 point deficit.

Halifax were loving open field and when Greg Worthington sliced through the Cumbrian's defence it was fantastic full-back play from Woodburn-Hall who was on the inside shoulder of Worthington to take the pass and run 40 metres to score.

The second try seemed almost to signal game over as Garside crossed for his second of the evening. Liam Harris resumed kicking duties from the home side and converted both. The second conversion came seconds before the half-time interval.

The second half got off to the best possible start for Whitehaven as Andrew Bulman scored his first try only four minutes into the half. An offload from Chris Taylor initially went backwards but bounced on the point and went forward meaning all Bulman had to do was touch it down.

With the doubt about the pass from Taylor, referee Chris Kendall checked with the video referee before awarding the four pointer. Walmsley resumed the kicking responsibility but was unable to convert.

The game continued at a fast pace, which is only really seen in play-off rugby, but it was Haven who struck next. Ryan King powered over after his man off the tackle and grounding the ball. Walmsley couldn't convert once again but the deficit was being reduced.

Halifax saw Whitehaven start to gain ascendancy as the hour mark loomed and when a few minutes later Greg Worthington was tackled without the ball they didn't waste the opportunity in extending their lead through a penalty goal.

Connor Robinson slotted the conversion over and it was a 10 point game with 15 minutes left on the clock. Consecutive goal line drop outs were forced by the home side but Dion Aiye grabbed a Tangata offload to nullify that threat.

The visitors battered the home defence in the final 10 minutes of the game as they looked to keep the season alive and they were finally rewarded with 90 seconds left on the clock.

The ball came wide right through several pairs of hands and Bulman finished in the corner to make sure they had an opportunity for one final attacking set.

Jouffret converted from the touchline and Haven went big in the final set but they couldn't break the Halifax defence for one final hurrah on a fantastic season.

Match Facts

Halifax Panthers: James Woodburn-Hall, James Saltonstall, Greg Worthington, Zack McComb, Connor McGrath, Scott Grix, Liam Harris, Adam Tangata, Brandon Moore, Daniel Murray, Matt Garside, Ben Kavanagh, Jacob Fairbank. Subs: Connor Davies, Kevin Larroyer, Elliot Morris, Connor Robinson.

Tries: McGrath (6), Garside 2 (10,38), Woodburn-Hall (34).

Goals: Harris 2/3, Woodburn-Hall 1/1, Robinson 1/1.

Whitehaven: Lachlan Walmsley, Andrew Bulman, Chris Taylor, Karl Dixon, Jason Mossop, Louis Jouffret, Nikau Williams, Andrew Thornley, James Newton, Guy Graham, Ryan King, Liam Cooper, Tom Wilkinson. Subs: Dion Aiye, Tom Walker, Jake Bradley, Andrew Dawson.

Tries: Cooper (22), Bulman 2 (44,78), King (53).

Goals: Jouffret 2/2, Walmsley 0/2.