Featherstone take the win in a hard fought season opener against the Hunslet Hawks at Belle Vue, with Sam Irwin winning man of the match following a strong second half from the home side.
The 2015 season for the Hawks started in a rather strange venue with the Hawks facing the Featherstone Rovers at their temporary home of Belle Vue, Wakefield. The game started at a slow pace, both teams feeling each other out at their respective ends of the pitch.
Hunslet started the game stronger though and early season nerves in the Rovers resulted in early penalties giving the Hawks early chances to open the season’s, and game’s, scoring. The Rovers made the most of the small amount of possession they had early only to clear the ball to the opposite end of the pitch and relieve some of the pressure.
A penalty against Hunslet following another long kick from a completed set gave the Rovers their first dangerous attacking set. Something they quickly capitalised on, Ian Hardman finishing the play to take the lead and open the scoring. The kick from Paul Sykes was good and the Rovers lead 6-0 just 16 minutes in.
Rovers kicked off and a penalty in the resulting set saw the home side come close to quickly doubling the lead; denied only by an unlucky, although somewhat fortuitous for the Hawks, mishandled ball.
With just over a quarter of the game gone the game had slipped back into it’s earlier rhythm, both teams defenders quickly becoming the stars of the game. An incident off the ball took the attention away briefly from the game as Rovers’ Tim Spears found himself on the receiving end of a sin binning. The Hawks, set to capitalise on the man advantage, used the added pressure to forge another attack but an unlucky drop on the line meant the visitors couldn’t finish the instant advantage.
The Rovers, perhaps spurred on by the loss of a player, took the turnover back into Hawks territory another drop on the line the only thing keeping the game score to a single digit.
With just minutes left of the sin binning, the Hawks finally found the opportunity they’d been looking for. Andy Kain quickly pouncing on a gap to intercept a wayward pass and sprint almost the entire length of the pitch. The Rovers wingers were quickly back to make the tackle, but a quick play found Callum Casey to score the first points of Hunslet’s 2015 season.
Simon Brown kicking the extras for the Hawks. The away side levelled the game with less than 10 minutes before the half.
The Hawks took the lead with just 2 minutes to play following a penalty deep in Rovers half of the pitch. Simon Brown kicking his second of the night taking the teams in at half time 6-8, both teams looking every bit the league’s top performers they were billed as.
An early penalty in the second half gave Featherstone two back to back sets from the kick off. The Rovers, looking to capitalise on the pressure, aimed a well placed grubber into the corner, Paul Sykes finding Jack Bussey with the boot for the try. Sykes, the creator of the play expertly, dispatching the extras to take back the lead with only 3 minutes of the second half played 12-8.
The Hawks countered straight from kick off with a high bomb. The kick placed perfectly and a good chase insured the Hawks had an immediate chance to get back into the game, a penalty giving the visitors even more of an advantage. A grubber, almost identical to the Rovers’ just minutes before, was neatly gathered up by Liam Mackay to level the scores, Simon Brown again stepping up and converting to give the Hawks the lead once again.
With 9 minutes played in the half and the two teams separated by only 2 points, the handbags were drawn. The referee dealt with it swiftly giving both teams a talking to, but a new found energy in both teams spurred the game on. Featherstone’s nippy play being countered by strong defensive play by Hunslet.
The Featherstone squad, now gelling, began to shine as their slick attacking allowed for French trialist Remy Marginet to get another grubber into the corner. Ben Blackmore on the end of it, touching down deep in the corner. The conversion flew wide. The Rovers now only 2 points ahead.
Another high kick off again troubled the home side but this time Featherstone swarmed the ball to keep possession. The Hawks looked to try and grab a foothold in the game with only 20 minutes remaining; the next score very much could win or lose the game. The teams throwing everything at each other desperate to make their set count.
Featherstone coming the closer of the teams. Their championship experience a factor in the closing quarter of the game. A penalty just 20 meters out from the Hawks line giving them another great opportunity. Matt James first held up short of the line but an impressive Paul Sykes found a small gap the next play, converting his own kick neatly, the score with just ten minutes remaining now 22-14.
The kick off again troubled the Rovers. A great chase by the Hawks despite now being two scores behind not giving up, both teams exchanged sets and fantastic defensive stands neither allowing the other past midfield, until a penalty against the Hawks allowing the home side back into the attacking half where they earned back-to-back drop outs.
Great defence from Hunslet kept them out though and with 3 minutes left the Hawks had worked their way the length of the pitch and were only meters away from being back into the game. Fortune this time not in Hunslet’s favour as the final pass was intercepted, leading to Ben Blackmore scoring his second of the game, this time the kick converted by Marginet. The Rovers now had a sizeable lead of 28-14.
With just time for the kick off before full time, both teams had given their everything, The Hawks, although leaving with a loss, can take a huge deal from the game.
The newly promoted side giving a game to the established giant, a fantastic performance with plenty to take forward into the new season, being disappointed with the result perhaps showing more about how far the Hawks have come in recent time than about the game.
Perhaps the best summary of the game would be, in the new championship season where every minute matters, two fantastic teams gave the fans 80 minutes of great Rugby League, neither giving an inch until the final hooter sounded.
Full time 28-14
Featherstone: Hitchcox, Sharp, Chappell, Hardman, Blackmore, Sykes, Irwin, Baldwinson, Ellis, Wood, Lockwood, Foster, Spears. Subs: Marginet, Bussey, Bostock, James
Hunslet: Watson, Barnett, Briscoe, Maun, Finnigan, Kain, Brown, Houston, Lee, Haley, Lyons, Casey, Mackay. Subs: Brennan, Mulhern, Grimshaw, Cosgrove