Halifax v St Helens: Part-timers Halifax working to cause problems for mighty Saints

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IT IS hard to believe there would be some muttering about playing in a Challenge Cup semi-final but Halifax coach Simon Grix concedes some of his players will be “fuming” about facing St Helens today.

Granted, some context is needed here; the Championship club are full of part-time players who rely on other work as the bulk of their income.

St Helens' Tommy Makinson and Halifax's  Jacob Fairbank with the Challenge Cup at Bolton.

St Helens' Tommy Makinson and Halifax's Jacob Fairbank with the Challenge Cup at Bolton.

It is easy to see, then, why few people, give them any chance against the rampant Super League leaders who are busting at the seams with international players.

Moreover, Halifax are out of sorts, winning just once in their last seven games to leave them in the often uninspiring position of mid-table security.

Speaking to The Yorkshire Post earlier this week at the University of Bolton Stadium – venue for this afternoon’s tie – Grix conceded: “There’ll be no Churchillan speeches from me.

“I’ll just go enjoy the occasion. It will probably be the only opportunity some of our lads get to play in front of such a crowd and on such an occasion.

“As long as they don’t get beat on effort. That’s the only thing.

“We just need to do well for ourselves. Half of our team are out of contract next year.

“They’ll be going to work all week this week and some of them will be fuming as they have to take Saturday morning off work to be here.

“We normally train Tuesday, Thursday, Friday nights which means Saturday is open for them to go work.

“If Saturday was a training day we’d be taking a day off them where they could be getting some income. I think there is a couple who may have been due to work this Saturday.

“But they’ve known about this fixture for some time so the whole squad will be here.”

No Championship side has even reached the last-four since Hull KR did in 2006 only to be dismissed 50-0 by Saints.

Halifax, with their raft of homegrown talent allied to wily veterans such as captain Scott Murrell, will be hoping to make sure this afternoon’s meeting is far less one-sided.

They have not won the competition since 1987 when, fittingly, they did shock Saints while their last final was 12 months later in defeat to Wigan.

But what has this Cup run done for the mood in the West Yorkshire town?

“Our league form since (winning at Bradford Bulls in the quarter-finals) has probably dampened any excitement towards it,” admitted Halifax-born Grix, whose elder brother Scott will line up for him again this afternoon.

“We’ve won once in seven games. Has this been a distraction? Not for me, it hasn’t but I’m not going out on the pitch.

“I’m just happy, though, to get on with it now and get out there.

“The enormity of the task is at hand. They are probably the best Super League team for the last 10 years, if not more; they can play from anywhere on the pitch and everyone is a threat.

“The bookies have us at longer than long odds to do anything but we’ll be trying our best to give a good account of ourselves and just enjoy it.”

Which, it is hoped, the coach will do, too.

It is an intriguing prospect for Grix who, at just 33, is one of the youngest head coaches around.

He only stepped up from assistant player-coach when Halifax unexpectedly parted company with Richard Marshall in April. Ironically, Marshall – who had transformed Halifax over the past four years – has since taken on Sean Long’s old assistant’s role at St Helens.

Meanwhile, former Ireland back-row Grix has suffered real misfortune in the Challenge Cup previously.

He played 10 seasons at Warrington Wolves but cruelly missed out on all three of their Challenge Cup final wins during that time – 2009, 2010 and 2012.

“At the time it feels like the worst thing ever,” he recalled.

“But you get a little bit older and everyone has things in their lives that you go through and you realise it’s just rugby and not the end of the world.

“I was fortunate to be in all those teams and see all my mates go on and do that. It is always bittersweet; the bitter part not being out there but the sweet seeing them lift that trophy and enjoying that day they’ve worked hard for.

“The first final I hurt my shoulder about six weeks before and the second I was ill.

“The third one I tore my pec about 10 weeks before it. I opted not to have surgery and try and rehab in an attempt to get back.

“But I never had time to get my form back and the lads in my absence who came in did really well.

“I couldn’t have any complaints when they didn’t pick me. It’s not a sympathy vote.

“I can see it a bit differently now I’m coaching; you can’t give someone a game just because he’s missed out before. It’s just not how it works. And there’ll be some disappointed Saturday.”

Grix, meanwhile, will not be getting the boots back on.

“I’ve not come out and said I’m done yet but I am done,” he said, having started his professional career with Halifax in 2003, the year they were relegated from Super League.

“I realised pretty quickly that Alex Murphy is the last player-coach who has had any success.

“The conversations I’ve had to have with people about why they’re not playing or why they have to move on to another club, I’m not sure if I could take to the field if I wasn’t absolutely outstanding.

“I’ve played enough over the years. I can retire pretty happy I suppose.”