Catalans Dragons 32 Halifax Panthers 32
Halifax Panthers defied the odds to share the European Club Challenge with Catalans Dragons on a thrilling night of Wheelchair Rugby League in Cabestany, near Perpignan.
The Panthers, who travelled to France to represent the Betfred Wheelchair Super League after their triumph over Leeds Rhinos in last autumn’s Grand Final, started as rank outsiders against a formidable Catalans team who had thrashed the Rhinos in last week’s Challenge Cup Final in Sheffield.
Halifax were then forced to play a quarter of the match with only four players on the pitch as a result of having a player sin-binned in each half.
But they overcame those obstacles to take a 32-28 lead when Jordan Holt was sent over by the England World Cup winner Sebastian Bechara with 12 minutes remaining.
Roared on by a capacity crowd in an impressive new arena, the Dragons finally pulled level deep into stoppage time when the outstanding Nicolas Clausells touched down near the posts for his fifth try of the night.
But Clausells’ uncle, Gilles, miscued his conversion attempt, which rebounded from the crossbar – and the teams shook hands on a draw.
Bechara, who had been a Challenge Cup winner with Catalans last week but returned to Halifax colours with his fellow Frenchman Jeremy Bourson after both played key roles in their 2022 title triumph, had put the Panthers ahead early.
England veteran Wayne Boardman then laid on a second Halifax try for Rob Hawkins, and added his second conversion and a penalty for a 14-0 lead.
But Hawkins, whose starring role in England’s World Cup triumph was recognised this week when a bus was named after him, was then sent to the sin bin for a professional foul, and while he was off, the Dragons cut the deficit to 14-12 with the first two tries for Nicolas Clausells.
He completed his hat-trick after a brilliant move, but the nip and tuck continued in the closing stages of the first half, as Hawkins touched down in the corner, only for Damien Dore to respond and re-establish a 22-20 lead for the Dragons at the break.
Bechara’s second put Halifax back ahead early in the second half, but he was then sent to the sin bin, and again the Dragons capitalised with Nicolas Clausells scoring his fourth.
“It’s been a magnificent occasion for Wheelchair Rugby League,” said Martin Coyd OBE, who travelled to France with the Panthers in his role as General Manager of Wheelchair Rugby League in England.
“Catalans Dragons have laid on an excellent occasion, and the teams delivered a magnificent contest, underlining the appeal of bringing together the champions of England and France for the European Club Challenge.”