Ben Kavanagh hoping for hometown glory with Halifax when Saints come marching in

Ben Kavanagh hoping for hometown glory with Halifax when Saints come marching in

Ben Kavanagh can still recall being hoisted onto his father’s shoulders as a four-year-old to watch his beloved Halifax play out their final seasons at Thrum Hall.

After a career that started with a Super League stint at Widnes and snaked through Wakefield and Bradford to Hull KR, the Halifax-born prop finally signed for his hometown club in 2019.

Kavanagh’s return coincided with the then second-tier side’s surge to the Challenge Cup semi-finals, including a win over Super League London Broncos, and he featured in their eventual 26-2 defeat by St Helens in Bolton.

St Helens v Halifax – Coral Challenge Cup – Semi-Final – University of Bolton Stadium
Halifax were narrowly beaten by St Helens in the 2019 semi-final (Dave Howarth/PA)

On Friday night the 35-year-old will get his second shot at Saints when the reigning world champions head for The Shay for a sixth-round clash that Kavanagh admits will bring back plenty of happy memories.

“I’ve been a Halifax fan ever since I used to go to Thrum Hall with my dad, and even when I was playing for other clubs I’d try to get back back to watch them as often as I could,” Kavanagh told the PA news agency.

“I always said I wanted to finish my career at Halifax so it was a very special moment when I signed for them in 2019. We had a great cup run that year and we shocked ourselves a bit getting to semis and pushing Saints so hard in the first half.

“We’ve spoken about that cup run this week. We are going into the game as massive underdogs but there will be a great home crowd and it just shows that if we chuck a few things at them that they haven’t experienced before, anything could happen.”

Saints were also the opponents when Halifax claimed the latest of their five Challenge Cup wins with a thrilling 19-18 win at Wembley in 1987, 10 months before Kavanagh was born.

The club has put long-term fans like Kavanagh though every conceivable emotion in the summer era, including plunging out of Super League, teetering on the brink of the third tier, and winning a battle against potential liquidation.

Rebranded to their current Panthers in 2020, Halifax have been resurgent in recent seasons, finishing third in the Championship last season and retaining similarly strong play-off hopes in the current campaign.

Halifax v St Helens – Rugby League
St Helens last visited The Shay for a Super League clash in 2003 (Gareth Copley/PA)

A dream return to Super League with his home club may realistically come too late for Kavanagh, who also figured in the 2013 World Cup for Scotland, but he is pleased that the turbulence of the last two decades appears to be a thing of the past.

“It took a long time after their relegation from Super League to build things back up but now we’re heading in the right direction, and it’s something that’s back on the horizon,” he added.

“I remember those days at Thrum Hall when there were thousands watching, and it would be great to get back to that sort of atmosphere on a regular basis, starting on Friday night against Saints.”

Halifax are one of four Championship clubs featuring in the last 16 of the competition this weekend. Batley travel to Hull KR while London face York in a game that ensures at least one non-Super League side will reach the quarter-finals.