3 Oct 2022
Betfred Wheelchair Super League Grand Final – Leeds Rhinos 48 Halifax Panthers 52
Halifax desperately defended the final play of an exhilarating showpiece, the ball rippling through six pairs of Leeds hands as the hooter sounded on a 100-point extravaganza, the Panthers reclaiming the Betfred Wheelchair Super League crown.
Their triumph – which denied Leeds a double treble in domestic competition – saw the title again alternate between the two fierce Yorkshire rivals for the fourth occasion.
A stunning first half display, which included five tries in 16 minutes to give them a 36-10 lead, seemed to have established a comfortable win for Halifax, but Leeds scored right on half time, and with just over ten minutes to go had hauled themselves back level at 42-all in a monumental match.
Two tries in three minutes post parity, both from England international Rob Hawkins, taking his match tally to five together with eight goals, seemed to have secured ‘Fax the spoils but Josh Butler – despite a dislocated shoulder - went over in the corner from a fine Nathan Collins pass who then nailed the conversion from the touchline, to also finish, like Hawkins, with a total of 36 points.
Hawkins’ scoring feats took the headlines for ‘Fax but it was England international Seb Bechara, on dual registration with Catalans Dragons alongside French international Jeremy Bourson, who was the difference and the provider of virtually all of Hawkins’ scores, the one to edge the blue and white’s back into a late winning lead, an outrageous one-handed offload as he fell, that cut out half the Leeds cover.
“It was an amazing game,” noted Bechara, who damaged a finger in the second half. “I know Leeds’s power to come back so at half time we never thought the job was done, but we managed to get the momentum back in the last five minutes and that saved us.
“My job is to attract players around me like mosquitos and then give the ball to fast players like Rob and it worked perfectly, he is an amazing player and was man of the match against Leeds when we won our last Grand Final in 2019.”
Collins, who played on despite repeated back spasms which it is hoped will not keep him out of the England squad for the World Cup, was magnificent for the Rhinos in the second half, responsible for five of his side’s six goal line drop outs that so nearly turned the tide.
Bechara’s brilliant flick pass sent Nathan Holmes over for the opening try on Halifax’s first set, Jodie Boyd-Ward then producing a stunning tackle to deny Bourson.
Tom Halliwell, denied space in the first half, and Collins linked to send player/coach James Simpson over in reply, Collins from a Halliwell reverse pass on the last putting Leeds ahead.
Collins produced a Herculean effort to deny Bourson, who then grounded the ball just short.
Bechara chipped over majestically for Bourson to gather and cross, and on the next set broke through on a lovely diagonal run to release Hawkins.
Bechara and Bourson put Hawkins over again as Halifax hit a purple patch, Hawkins breaking clear only to be illegally brought down from behind by Simpson with a try saver, Hawkins missing the resulting penalty.
Bechara again sent Hawkins away, Bourson capitalising, Bechara then getting outside Collins to set up a first half hat trick for Hawkins.
On the stoke of half time, Collins shimmied between the posts to give his side hope and Leeds started the second half expansively, Bechara halting Butler.
Holmes was just taken out in the corner as he tried to ground and the Rhinos hit back, Halliwell and Simpson putting Boyd-Ward over out wide.
On the next set, Collins regathered his chip off the post to cross and twice forced goal line drop outs with pinpoint kicks.
From the second, Bechara hit the ball the length of the field, Collins was caught in goal, and Bechara deservedly went over by the posts from the reverse drop out.
Halifax survived four sets before Collins found the line twice in seven minutes to leave the gap at two points.
The Rhinos’ revival seemed complete when Ewan Clibbens intercepted Bechara’s pass and Bourson gave away a penalty which Collins landed to level.
Twice Bechara released Hawkins in response, but Hawkins’ conversion attempt to his second touchdown missed, leaving the door still open for Leeds.
Collins put Butler in and landed the touchline goal but the clock beat them. England skipper Halliwell said: “We always back ourselves to come back but their first try in the second half, after we’d had all that pressure and with points’ coming, ultimately told.
“I thought, when we drew level, we had it and it was the comeback of dreams, but it wasn’t to be.”
GAME STAR – Although Rob Hawkins stood out with his 36 point haul for Halifax, it was the service provided to him, together with his surging midfield runs and an audacious pass for the winning try, that set Seb Bechara apart.
GAMEBREAKER – As the final hooter went, Leeds were in possession flicking passes between James Simpson, Nathan Collins and Tom Halliwell but the ‘Fax defence held enabling them to pick up the trophy.
1 Nathan Collins
4 James Simpson
6 Ewan Clibbens
7 Tom Halliwell
10 Jodie Boyd-Ward
3 Josh Butler
8 Paul Horrobin
9 Verity Smith
Tries: Simpson (10), Collins (13, 39, 47, 60, 67), Boyd-Ward (45), Butler (78)
Goals: Collins 8/9
7 Wayne Boardman
11 Rob Hawkins
13 Jeremy Bourson
20 Nathan Holmes
21 Seb Bechara
14 Tom Martin
1 Julin Hernandes
10 Tom Green
Tries: Holmes (1), Bourson (22, 34), Hawkins (23, 31, 38, 73, 76), Bechara (51)
Goals: Hawkins 8/10
Half time: 16-36
Referee: David Butler
Penalty count: 8-2
Scoring sequence: 0-6, 4-6, 10-6, 10-12, 10-18, 10-24, 10-30, 10-36, 16-36, 22-36, 28-36, 28-42, 34-42, 40-42, 42-42, 42-48, 42-52, 48-52