Life doesn’t get any easier for Hunslet Hawks fans, but after the latest in a run of defeats against the sides at the top of the Kingstone Press Championship, there was no reason to be downhearted. In fact the performance on Sunday against Featherstone Rovers should give the supporters real hope that they will be entertaining sides of this calibre again next season.
Despite falling to a fifth straight loss, four of them have been against sides pushing for promotion to the Super League, and this was the latest in a series of brave displays where they have just fallen short against supposedly much superior opposition.
All photos by Steve Gaunt / Touchlinepics.com
It would have been a brave man who would have been so bullish after the opening 20 minutes of the match as Featherstone looked like they had arrived at the South Leeds Stadium for a comfortable stroll in the sunshine. They were 12-0 up in 12 minutes as Hunslet failed to get out of the blocks. From the first set of six tackles, the Hawks were up against it as Jordan Lilley made a rare error in kicking the ball into touch on the full, handing the visitors an attacking platform from the outset.
After being held up just short of the line on their first possession, Featherstone crossed it on their second. They were handed an additional set of tackles after Richie Barnett spilled a high kick and they capitalized on that error as Gareth Moore stretched to touchdown on five minutes. Paul Sykes kicked the first of his seven conversions to put Rovers 6-0 up.
When Hunslet finally did get close to the visitors try line, an over ambitious pass by Lilley was intercepted by Moore who raced 60 yards downfield with the ball, slipping to the turf as he tried to evade the covering tackle of Jimmy Watson. Featherstone though were proving to be so much quicker around the ruck than the Hawks and Paul Cooke eventually went over to double the lead.
It was a surprise when Hunslet halved that deficit on 20 minutes with their next real attack. After Rovers conceded a needless penalty the Hawks managed to get the ball to Kyle Trout and the loanee from Wakefield brushed aside a couple of weak tackles to go over under the posts for his first try for the club.
Featherstone stepped up a gear after conceding the try, but through a combination of poor decision making and scrambling Hunslet defence, they bombed several try scoring opportunities. However it was no surprise when they eventually extended their lead, Cooke firing an excellent pass to Ian Hardman to make an angled run through the Hawks line to cross for a try. Then three minutes later Cooke grabbed his second try of the afternoon, spinning through a tackle before diving over the whitewash. The 24-6 lead did not flatter the visitors.
But right on half time, Hunslet showed they were going to go down fighting and Andy Kain linked up well with Ryan Backhouse to dash through under the posts for a try against his former club. That score left the Hawks down by 12 points at the half.
The Hunslet fans have seen some second half horror shows in recent weeks, but that hoodoo may have been broken after what we saw on Sunday. For 15 minutes the Hawks were camped in the Featherstone half and played some of the best running rugby they have produced this season. Watson went over for a try in the corner after a superb handling move by the backs created a gap that he darted through, but with Lilley failing to convert the gap was 8 points.
The visitors were on the ropes, forced to concede a couple of goal line drop outs as Hunslet continued to press. But then like a boxer who finds himself in trouble, they produced a knock-out blow to Hunslet’s hopes. The referee gave a tap on the 20m line and from that, Featherstone raced 80 metres with Will Sharp eventually scoring in the corner.
The match looked to be over on 63 minutes when Sharp scored his second try of the afternoon, collecting a high kick from Moore to touch down in the corner, and with Sykes continuing his perfect afternoon with the boot, the lead was all of a sudden a 20 point one, with Rovers leading 16-36
Hunslet’s attitude to this double setback was commendable and they themselves scored two tries in three minutes to roar right back into contention. Firstly Jack Lee darted over from dummy half and then on 70 minutes Vinny Finigan leapt to claim a high kick in the corner and dot down, Lilley landing a superb touchline conversion to make it 28-36.
Featherstone had to dig deep and once again came up with the goods as Alex Foster managed to ground the ball over the line, despite a host of Hawks defenders being around him, to seal the win.
Hunslet though continued to press and managed to grab another try before the hooter, Jack Lee crossing for his second as Featherstone showed their tiredness in defence. However there was not enough time left on the clock for the Hawks to mount a serious threat to save the game, and once again they had to settle for the role of gallant losers.
Final score: Hunslet Hawks 34-42 Featherstone Rovers.
With Bradford and Leigh to come in the next two matches, Hunslet need to continue to concentrate on their performance rather than worry about the results because if they continue as they have done they will be in an excellent place when the more crucial fixtures against those sides in and around them at the bottom of the table come round.
HAWKS: Watson, Barnett, Maun,Mvududu, Finigan, Kain, Lilley, Haley, Lee, Houston, Martin, Backhouse, Mulhern. SUBS: Flanagan, Lyons, Trout, Gee
FEATHERSTONE: Hardman, Sharp, Sykes, Minns, Hitchcock, Cooke, Moore, Baldwinson, Ellis, Verlinden, Cording, Maitua, Spears. SUBS: Marginet, Cooper, Ormondroyd, Foster
REFEREE: G Hewer