Halifax held off a Bradford fightback at the Shay on Sunday to secure a 20-18 victory.
Two late tries for the Bulls almost saw them overhaul their near rivals, but the hosts’ extra nous saw them home.
In truth Fax piled pressure on themselves in the second half, after having the game comfortably in their grasp at half-time.
There was a poignant minute silence for Halifax great Johnny Freeman before the game and that emotion saw Fax start brightly, moving the Bulls around. It was a tactic that continued throughout and at times Bradford forwards were chasing shadows on a sunny afternoon.
Unsurprisingly the first chance went the way of the hosts. Ben Heaton went down the right and Salford dual contract player Jake Bibby supported but his inside pass was put down by Ed Barber with the line at his mercy.
The hosts were playing with great intent and saw a try disallowed for offside on five minutes after Josh Wood’s inventive kick.
Bradford came through the middle with Mikolaj Oledzki before Oscar Thomas half broke the line. At the end of the set a lofted kick from Thomas landed confidently with Rob Worrincy and Halifax looked dangerous, moving the ball confidently to reach the Bradford thirty metre line before Mitch Cahalane dropped the ball after seven minutes.
A second towering bomb from Thomas caused issues for Will Sharp but Bradford were penalised for offside and Fax started an attack on their own forty metre line before being awarded a second penalty in succession.
Halifax frittered away possession and improvisation from Joe Keyes saw the halfback chip and regather in thrilling style over 30 metres. By the end of the set Sam Hallas was held up over the line.
Fax finished this set well and then forced an error while Colton Roche was helped from the field after 13 minutes. That brought Ross Peltier onto the field. With Simon Grix at the heart of things Halifax roared forward again but Barber put the ball down.
Surprisingly the game was still scoreless after 15 minutes and another half break from Keyes took the Bulls close and they forced a drop out.
A penalty saw the Bulls enjoy more possession and they split the Halifax defence with Ed Chamberlain going in at the corner only to lose the ball in a Worrincy challenge. Bradford compounded that error by conceding a penalty. Shane Grady was hauled down on the line and a move left saw an intercept just evade Chamberlain.
From the extra possession Fax tested the defence on the right through Ben Heaton and then scored on the left through Wood after 20 minutes.
Steve Tyrer nailed the conversion from wide and Fax led 6-0.
Three minutes later Fax were inside the twenty again and Ross Peltier took a knock. Clinically Brandon Moore went to the defence and had Heaton at his shoulder for the burly centre to crash through three tacklers at the side of the posts. Tyrer added his second goal and Fax led 12-0.
Peltier had to leave the field, a second blow for the Bulls after Colton Roche was also helped off.
Ten minutes from half-time the Bulls came forward but two penalties rocked them back on their heels and Tyrer put the second of those through the posts to make it 14-0 and a three score game after 32 minutes.
Three minutes later, Reiss Butterworth sliced through the defence for Bradford only to be hauled down, but in his eagerness debutant Ashley Gibson was penalised for a double movement.
Halifax went the length of the field on their next set and despite Ed Chamberlain breaking from deep for the Bulls, he then knocked on thirty metres from the try line.
Barber butchered another chance for Fax, ignoring three supporting players to his right but the hosts went to half-time with a 14-0 lead intact.
Early in the second half Bradford were penalised for a shoulder charge on the kicker and Halifax moved into range again only for a good tackle to put Heaton in touch.
Spirited play by the Bulls took them inside the Fax twenty but Keyes teasing kick wouldn’t hold up. At the other end Worrincy was tackled touch in goal by James Mendieka and Chamberlain. It kept Bradford in the game.
To be fair Halifax were scrappy but their defence was more than a match for a hard working and limited Bulls attack until the 55th minute.
Oledzki drove to the line and Hallas dabbed through with Scott Murrell content to concede a drop out. The ball went 80 metres on the bounce and the Bulls saw the tackle count wiped down from a Mitch Cahalane tackle.
Vila Halafihi picked up and despite being checked, the tackle wasn’t complete. Halafihi played to the whistle to run on and claim the try that had the Bradford fans singing loud. Thomas converted and they had a chance at 14-6.
Into the final quarter Jake Bibby went over at the corner only for Ethan Ryan to put him into touch. Bradford lost the ball bringing it away from their own end to hand possession to Fax, but the frustrations, and errors added up for the hosts.
Bradford had another go at the Fax line but a dabbed kick was collected by Wood. A penalty aided Halifax downfield and this time they took the direct route with Salford man Daniel Murray getting over the top of the defence with fourteen minutes to play. Tyrer goaled to claim his 2000th career point and Halifax led 20-6, much to the relief of the home fans.
Bradford continued to plug away, and forced Worrincy in touch. With eight minutes remaining they then forced a drop out but good defence by Bibby shut down the play.
Inside the last three minutes Ryan claimed a consolation score for the Bulls at the corner. Thomas goaled from the touchline and it was 20-12.
Then with seconds remaining Ted Chapelhow scored under the posts after brilliant work from Mendieka and Chamberlain. Thomas converted. The Bulls then played some sparkling post hooter stuff before the chance was lost and Halifax won through with a sigh of relief.
Halifax: Will Sharp, Jake Bibby, Steve Tyrer, Ben Heaton, Rob Worrincy; Scott Murrell, Josh Wood; Mitch Cahalane, Brandon Moore, Daniel Murray, Shane Grady, Ed Barber, Simon Grix. Subs: Elliot Morris, Jordan Walne, Ryan Boyle, Ben Kaye.
Bradford: Oscar Thomas, Ed Chamberlain, James Mendeika, Ashley Gibson, Ethan Ryan; Joe Keyes, Reiss Butterworth; Mikolaj Oledski, Sam Hallas, Jonathan Magrin, James Bentley, Cameron Smith, Carlton Roche. Subs: Ross Peltier, Liam Kirk, Ted Chapelhow, Vila Halafihi.
Referee: Nick Bennett.