Keighley Cougars were looking for a double celebration as they took on the Halifax Panthers in the penultimate round of the Betfred 2023 Championship season. A win would lift them closer to guaranteeing Championship football next season, while a victory would also serve a major blow to the Panthers play-off aspirations.
On the other hand, a win for the Panthers could see them end the weekend in fifth spot in the table should fifth paced Bradford Bulls lose to fourth placed London Broncos. It promised to be an exciting Sunday afternoon as teams vied for the remaining play-off places and to avoid finishing up in the bottom two.
Halifax were the favourites for the win with a twelve-point start on the coupon for the Cougars.
Inside the opening minute the home side drew first blood with Mo Agoro outpacing the Halifax defence to cross on the back of a ten-metre break. Oscar Thomas hit the post with the conversion attempt.
Storey went close on seven minutes, but the Panthers defence managed to bring him down just short of the line.
The Panthers spilled the ball on their own ten minutes as they struggled to get into the game, Keighley getting the scrum and from it, Agoro went in for his second as Lachlan Walmsley was unable to take him down. Thomas was again off target with the conversion attempt.
Walmsley edged Halifax back into the game on eighteen minutes on the first Panthers attacking play of the game as the Keighley defence broke their discipline. The Louis Jouffret conversion attempt hit the post, the home side with an 8-4 lead.
Alex Sutclliffe juggled the ball but regained before it hit a Keighley player, or the ground, and he held onto it long enough to go over for the equalising try. Jouffret added the conversion to give the Panthers a 10-8 lead.
Inside the last ninety seconds the Cougars were awarded a penalty on the halfway line, Thomas kicking a massive goal to level the scores at 10-10.
A flat pass from James Woodburn-Hall to Walmsley saw the winger over the line to regain the lead for the Panthers. Jouffret dropped his conversion short of the sticks.
Kieran Rush was held up short of the line on forty-nine as he went for the line but on the following play the ball went dead, and the attack broke down.
Jouffret kicked an easy penalty on fifty-two for a six-point advantage to the visitors.
The Cougars struck back on fifty-six after a nice move with Charlie Graham diving over for the four-pointer to finish off a nice passing move. Thomas hit the far upright with his conversion, the Cougars trailing by two points.
A Thomas penalty levelled the scores at 16-16, very little to choose between the two sides after sixty-three minutes.
A break from James Saltonstall allowed him to find Woodburn-Hall in support who bounced over the line under the tackle of Graham for a four-pointer to put the Panthers back into the lead. Jouffret added the conversion, but the game felt far from over.
Keighley were pushing for the equalising try but the Halifax defence held firm into the last ten minutes.
With five minutes remaining the Cougars levelled the scores when Mark Ioane finally broke the Halifax defence after spinning out of a tackle to go over. Thomas added the conversion for a 22-22 scoreline going in the closing stages of the game.
On seventy-eight Jouffret kicked a drop goal to edge his side into the lead as the Keighley tackler tried to get to him. Halifax held on until the final hooter for a crucial win and a crucial two points.
The loss means that Keighley remain in twelfth place in the table but are only ahead of the Swinton Lions courtesy of a single points difference in points difference. Swinton play Halifax next week, while Keighley travel to London. Halifax are up to sixth with Batley playing York tomorrow evening and the final play-off place will be decided on the last weekend of the season.
Keighley Cougars: Young, Graham (T), Webster, Storey, Agoro (2T), Thomas (3G), Spence, Ioane (T), Gaylor, Kesik, Robson, Adebiyi, Trout. Subs: Rush, Walker, Bibby, Lynam. 18th Man: Roby.
Halifax Panthers: Woodburn-Hall (T), Walmsley (2T), Crooks, McComb, Saltonstall, Jouffret (3G, DG), Keyes, Murray, Moore, Larroyer, Kavanagh, Gee, Fairbank. Subs: Inman, Tangata, Lannon, Sutcliffe (T). 18th Man: Pickersgill.
Score Progression: 4-0, 8-0, 8-4, 8-8, 8-10, 10-10 : HT: 10-14, 10-16, 14-16, 16-16, 16-20, 16-22, 20-22, 22-22, 22-23 :FT.
Lead Exchanges: Keighley – Square – Halifax – Square – Halifax – Square – Halifax – Square - Halifax.
Referee: Nick Bennett.