IN a classic game of two halves Huddersfield Giants opened their 2005 campaign with a narrow one-point defeat at Halifax in a highly entertaining game.
Although a victory would have been a fantastic way to signal the New Year, defeat was hardly the end of the world.
And had coach Jon Sharp kept his first-team players on the field in the second half, that would have been the obvious outcome.
But with the Super League squad men having laid a very solid foundation by helping their side build up an 18-0 interval lead, their work had been done.
In that opening 40 minutes Thomas Hemingway set up two tries, Paul White was on hand to create another and Iain Morrison was the inspiration of a fourth.
However, once such players had been withdrawn, the entire complexion of the contest altered.
As Huddersfield took to the field for the second half with a young, inexperienced and enthusiastic side, the home team announced the introduction of some of their big guns.
First-choice half-backs Ben Black and Pat Weisner, returning hero from Castleford Tigers Damian Gibson and new North Sydney signing Ben Fisher all entered the fray - and were soon making the expected impact.
The likes of White, captain Jon Grayshon and Jason Southwell were re-introduced late in the game.
But they were unable to prevent Halifax from battling back and sealing a thrilling contest with a 75th-minute try from former Giants Super League hooker Gareth Greenwood.
It was a disappointing end to a game which for so long looked to be heading the way of the visitors.
In the first half the Giants looked far fitter, faster and stronger and emphasised the fact by scoring four stunning tries.
Within four minutes they had hit the front as White kept the ball alive on the sixth tackle and fed winger Symon Sutherland to finish off superbly in the corner.
Six minutes later Huddersfield were over again, with Hemingway this time showing electrifying pace to create the opening for Tony Williams to score.
White added the extras - his only conversion as the contest - and the visitors were scoring at a point a minute.
But it took them until the 23rd minute to extend the advantage as Morrison secured possession with a one-on-one ball steal inside the Halifax 20, enabling Paul Smith and Peter Robinson to feed Sutherland for his second.
And on the half-hour mark another great Hemingway break and long pass helped send highly promising rugby union trialist Stephen Jones charging over in the corner.
At 18-0 the Giants were in the driving seat.
However, Halifax had shown in the opening 40 minutes that they could be a threat, with Giants winger Marcus George twice having to produce brave defensive efforts to deny the opposition.
And as soon as the Calderdale club introduced some of their stars, the threat became a reality.
Former North Sydney half-back Black dribbled through to open his side's account in the 50th minute and 10 minutes later former Giants Academy man Jon Simpson showed great strength to surge over by the posts.
Weisner added both goals and it was 18-12.
It was 18-16 two minutes later when Black broke from deep and fed Weisner to score a thrilling long-range try.
Williams settled Giants nerves with a 70th-minute drop goal and 73rd-minute penalty to prove that winning `friendlies' do mean something to the players!
But two minutes later Halifax kept the ball alive superbly and Greenwood was on hand to score a try, calmly converted by Wayne Corcoran, to seal a win which enabled them to retain the Infirmary Cup.