It’s twenty years since Halifax’s last truly great Super League side.
The team was coached by John Pendlebury, a man seen as a visionary by many at the time. He put together a small squad, one with a nice blend of youth and experience.
They built a team around key players like Chris Chester, Gavin Clinch, Damian Gibson and Paul Rowley. They were all complimented by honest, hard-working players beside them.
But if you speak to any of the players who played their part in that season, which ultimately saw Fax finish third and narrowly miss the Grand Final, the key component in all of it was a fantastic team spirit.
One of the often forgotten members of that squad was the club’s current head coach Richard Marshall. At the time, he was a young, up-and-coming forward looking to make a name for himself.
“He threw me in at the deep end did John,” Marshall said.
“I’d come off the bench after Karl Harrison and Kelvin Skerrett had riled the other team up and I’d get battered for 60 minutes. But what a learning curve that was for me.”
Halifax have never replicated that success. Things took a drastic turn for the worse, with financial issues crippling the club and ultimately resulting in their relegation in 2003.
But now, one of the sport’s most traditional, historic clubs is slowly back on the rise.
Marshall has been a cornerstone of their success, getting the best out of his part-time squad and delivering a team that never caves in.
The vibe currently around The Shay is similar to that great year two decades ago. Marshall can see similarities.
“We aren’t Super League but there are some comparable aspects. These lads do everything together, if we go out nobody leaves early, we all sit down and discuss things together.
“John gave us autonomy at the time, we try to do the same now. When I came here I had a vision for what the club should look like and we’re not far off right now. Everything is on track, whether that’s enough to get in Super League now, we’ll have to wait and see, but we’re moving in the right direction.”
Should Halifax earn promotion, it would go down as one of the biggest shocks in years. Their part-time status and minuscule budget in comparison to their counterparts in the Qualifiers leaves them as the inevitable underdogs.
“But we envisage being really competitive,” Marshall warned.
“We’ve played better consistently this year, the rugby we’ve played has been better. We’ll continue with that theme.
“Anything can happen. We weren’t expected to make the top four and we made that. We’re not expected to win any games in this competition. I do fancy our chances of picking up a couple of wins.”
Their first opportunity to do that comes against a Toronto side widely tipped for promotion after a strong Championship campaign and eye-catching recruitment drive. The two clubs couldn’t be much different in so many aspects, and although the Wolfpack will be expected to win, Marshall isn’t ruling anything out.
“There’s potential for an upset to happen but we know it’s going to be very difficult.
“They are by far the best team in the Championship. If we’re looking at the quality of player they’ve got, they are of a higher standard than ours, but they won’t have a higher standard of team spirit, that’s a fact.”