There’s no way of sugar coating it, Hunslet RLFC’s failure in the League 1 Play-off’s was disappointing as the South Leeds club had their best finish in ten years in the regular season.
Finishing second in the league meant the Parksiders were favourites for promotion, but it was third placed Doncaster that came strong in the end and snatched promotion for themselves.
Coach Alan Kilshaw’s second full season in charge saw a few changes in personnel, including some Championship experience in Steve Crossley, Adam Ryder, Michael Knowles and Sam Hallas. Fans became confident of a higher finish than in 2022 when the club just missed out on the Play-off’s.
A pre-season defeat to Batley looked encouraging and big wins over Salford and Leeds (who both fielded younger teams) gave chance to give all the squad a try out, but the league was thrown into chaos early on when West Wales pulled out leaving huge gaps in the fixtures.
It wasn’t an easy start for Hunslet travelling to much fancied Doncaster, but other than a 15 minute spell the Parksiders were on top and in the end at least deserved a draw as Jake Sweeting’s late conversion hit the post and the Dons took it 18-16.
A big cup win over amateurs Heworth and a 22-8 home win over North Wales Crusaders set up a cup rematch against last year’s champions Keighley Cougars. Although the Cougars led 4-16, two late tries from Brad Wheeler and Joe Burton took Hunslet to another agonising 2 point defeat 14-16.
A 22-66 victory over London Skolars in the capital set up a Good Friday derby away to Dewsbury. The Rams lead 12-0 at the break, but the 2nd half was all Hunslet, and in the end the visitors were disappointed to lose 12-6.
Big home wins against Midlands Hurricanes and Drighlington (in the Jimmy Watson testimonial match) regained some confidence, and a 10-54 win in Cornwall overcame a potential bananaskin after nearly a month without league rugby.
Now a run of tough games came. Workington proved a difficult task, but leading 22-18 Hunslet looked home until Town broke and Sabutey looked good for the corner. The winger uncharacteristically knocked-on with the line undefended and Hunslet took the points and thanked their stars luck was on their side.
A week later a devastating first half gave Hunslet a 22-0 lead against Rochdale, who although improving in the second half went down to a 38-18 defeat.
A hot day in Oldham was a chance to really post a message, but leading 18-20 early in the second half Hunslet fell fowl of Patrick Ah-Van whose tries led Oldham to a 40-20 victory.
Hunslet could afford no more losses, and with the re-signing of Half back Matty Beharrell and the on-loan Myles Lawford from Bradford Bulls the Parksiders were starting to look the part.
A 36-6 win at home to Cornwall followed by a 20-30 away win at North Wales Crusaders (coming from 16-6 down at half time) got them started, but a superb 28-8 home win over Doncaster with tries from Harvey Hallas, Jack Render and Myles Lawford really made people sit up and notice.
Going 12-0 down at Midlands was nothing as the Parksiders scored tries for fun to win 22-54. Oldham were tackled off the park as Lawford, Render and Joe Burton scored in a 21-8 victory. Then in the game of the season Hunslet toppled unbeaten Dewsbury 16-14 in an absolute classic with tries from Johnny Campbell, Myles Lawford, Josh Jordan-Roberts and Matty Beharrell.
If Hunslet could maintain this form they would surely be promoted?
A good start at Rochdale was eroded away as the hosts came from 4-20 down to 22-20 up, but Hunslet just stepped up a gear and tries from Joe Burton, Render and Campbell saw them home 22-35.
A 56-14 romp against bottom team London Skolars was expected, but the weeks off and a few injuries unsettled the squad for their last league trip away to Workington. An out of sorts Hunslet lost the game 18-6 but had secured that second spot and had gone unbeaten at home in the league for the full season.
Again, weeks off didn’t help and an in form Doncaster took advantage of a second half slump to book a place in the play-off final winning 14-26 at the South Leeds Stadium, meaning Hunslet had to beat an in form North Wales Crusaders. The game went down to the wire but mistakes cost the Parksiders who slid out of the play-offs losing 18-25.
Jack Render’s tries had been a highlight of the season and along with Matty Beharrell received the Supporters player of the season. Josh Jordan-Roberts and Harvey Hallas had been leaders in a dominant pack and on-loan Myles Lawford had been the icing on the cake.
It was a disappointing end to outgoing Coach Alan Kilshaw’s tenure, but he would feel he left the club in a better position than he found it. He commented:
“I’m delighted that Hunslet are in a better place, on and off the field, than when I arrived, and despite the disappointment of us not reaching the promotion play-off Grand Final. That’s sport, though, things don’t always go they way you want, and happy endings aren’t guaranteed.”
With assistant Coaches Danny Burton and Ryan Jackson remaining there is some continuation.
New Coach Dean Muir takes charge this week and we will wait and see which players are retained or brought in.
Behind the scenes things are looking up, as match day hospitality has doubled over the course of the season and sponsorship is on the up. The club is engaging with the community and with Woodlesford based Tuff Sportswear coming on board Hunslet hope to attract more local businesses.
The rugby played this season has certainly been entertaining and it’s hoped more supporters will come back next season, although with the loss of London Skolars League 1 is now down to 9 teams. So the question is will the RFL continue or merge League 1 and the Championship?
Finally, one Hunslet player has enjoyed a bumper year. Full-back Jimmy Watson celebrated his testimonial this season. Ten years as a Hunslet player, with many evenings and events raising money for a great club man who is still an integral part of the team.
Photo: Sam Hallas on the charge against Doncaster. Credit: Paul Whitehurst
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