Halifax Panthers and Widnes Vikings keen to continue positive starts to Championship season

MILESTONE man James Saltonstall says that even though Halifax Panthers have won two of their first three matches, heavy conditions have put the brakes on their trademark fast-flowing style so far this season.

But the former Italy international, fresh from making his 200th appearance at club level, admits there will be no excuses for failing to step on the gas in their Viaplay Sports-televised game at Widnes Vikings tonight (Monday, February 27), when Castleford big-hitters, back Mahe Fonua and prop Suaia Matagi, will both be available on dual-registration.

“Their artificial pitch means there are no worries about the condition of the surface,” said the 29-year-old, who is in his ninth season at hometown club Halifax after joining from Warrington.

The Panthers, eyeing a third successive appearance in the play-offs, have beaten Sheffield Eagles and London Broncos at home, either side of a defeat at Featherstone.

And Saltonstall, who scored two tries against the capital side to take his season’s haul to three (Australian winger Lachlan Walmsley has four), added: “We like to move the ball about, so the conditions so far haven’t been ideal.

“But two wins mean we have started this season better than we did the last two, and we want to kick on by beating Widnes.”

The Panthers were 32-4 winners at the DCBL Stadium in September, but look set to face a far sterner test against John Kear’s reshaped side.

The Vikings have also won two from three, seeing off York away and Keighley at home before a two-point loss against the coach’s former club Bradford at Odsal.

They also have a four-try winger in ex-Bradford man Ryan Millar, one of a string of close-season recruits.

Kear, who will be without halfback Tom Gilmore and centre Max Roberts for up to five months because of pectoral and ankle injuries respectively, was disappointed by the manner of the defeat at Bradford, where his side fell to a 79th-minute try by Tom Holmes and conversion by Dec Patton.

“It was a high-standard game in the first half, but we let ourselves down in the second,” he said.

“We lost that game after having won it. Our completion rate was really poor in the second half.

“We also lost the penalty count in the second half, so we invited them onto our line, and we were just having to defend and defend.

“I didn’t think our effort areas were at 100 percent like they had been in previous weeks, so there’s a fair bit that we can brush up and improve on.

“We went away from what has worked for us. It’s a very simple game plan, but it requires a lot of hard work, effort and toughness.”

Widnes’ Wales international and former St Helens, Sheffield and London Broncos hooker Matty Fozard will make his 200th career appearance tonight if he is selected for the Vikings.

Widnes 21-man squad: Jack Owens, Ryan Ince, Matt Fleming, Kieran Dixon, Danny Craven, Matty Fozard, Kyle Amor, Sam Wilde, Adam Lawton, Liam Bent, Callum Field, Shane Grady, Joe Lyons, Olly Davies, Joe Edge, Lewis Hatton, Aaron Brown, Will Tilleke, Brad Holroyd, Anthony Walker, Ryan Millar.  

Halifax 21-man squad: James Woodburn-Hall, Lachlan Walmsley, Zack McComb, Ben Tibbs, James Saltonstall, Louis Jouffret, Joe Keyes, Adam Tangata, Brandon Moore, Dan Murray, Ben Kavanagh, Matty Gee, Jacob Fairbank, Kyle Wood, Will Maher, Will Calcott, Tom Inman, Eribe Doro, Jake Maizen, Mahe Fonua, Suaia Matagi.