A mistake riddled second half saw Hunslet Hawks lose their home opener in the Kingstone Press Championship on Sunday as Batley Bulldogs scored 18 unanswered points to register a 26-14 win at the South Leeds Stadium.
Hunslet had named an unchanged side, Barry Eaton sticking with the same starting 13 who had battled so bravely against Featherstone on Monday night. The only change to the 17 came on the substitutes bench where George Flanagan replaced Danny Grimshaw. Batley had opened their season with a victory over Workington so arrived in South Leeds in good heart, making just one change themselves with Lee Mitchell replacing Brad Day.
The opening quarter of the game was a real arm wrestle as two evenly matched sides struggled to make any real inroads into opposition territory. Hunslet had slightly the upper hand with the kicking of Simon Brown proving more effective in early stages.
It was the visitors however who opened the scoring on 19 minutes as James Craven, who had earlier had a nasty collision with the covering of the long jump pit behind the posts, scythed through the Hawks defensive line to score the first try of the match, Scott Leatherbarrow failing to convert from the touchline.
Hunslet’s response was immediate as a dropped ball by Batley’s Tom Lillycrop handed Hunslet possession. The home side drove towards the Bulldogs line and on the last tackle a clever reverse kick by Andy Kain allowed Jimmy Watson to dive on the ball over the try line for the equalising score. Brown converted to give the Hawks a 6-4 lead.
Five minutes later Hunslet doubled their lead as substitute Brad Brennan barged over under the posts. The powerful prop forward had made a series of barnstorming runs since his introduction to the action and this try was just rewards for his effort. Again Brown knocked over the simple conversion and the Hawks led 12-4.
Batley soon reduced the arrears as some weak Hunslet tackling allowed Mitchell to break through the defensive line, setting up a try in the corner for Shaun Squires, his fifth of the fledgling season.
The closing stages of the first half saw things get a little spicy with Shaun Ainscough and Watson involved in a minor fracas, and Watson was then caught with a head shot moments later. From the resulting penalty, Brown put the Hawks in great field position and when Batley were again penalised, this time for a ball steal, he slotted over the goal kick to give Hunslet a 14-8 lead at the break.
The second half though saw the home side fall away badly. Anthony Nicholson breezed through the Hawks defensive line on 44 minutes to score close to the posts, allowing Leatherbarrow to kick his first goal of the afternoon and level proceedings.
Both sides struggled in the cold conditions as the game wore on, but every time Hunslet were given an opportunity, they seemed to gift possession straight back to the Bulldogs. A litany of missed passes and knock-ons saw Hunslet unable to build any pressure, whilst in defence they started to fall off tackles and allow Batley to take territorial control.
It was no surprise when Batley took the lead on 57 minutes. Alex Rowe was held up over the line, but from the very next tackle a high crossfield kick was taken by Ainscough and he went over in the corner, Leatherbarrow adding insult to injury by kicking the conversion from the touchline to make it a 6 point ballgame.
Hunslet were devoid of ideas in attack and after Leatherbarrow had extended the lead with a 63rd minute penalty, the game was put to bed in the dying seconds when Wayne Rettie capitalized on some quick hands to go over in the corner for the final score of the game.
Hunslet would have looked on this as a fixture they would need to win if they were to secure their Championship safety and although it is early days in the season, The Hawks will need to be vastly improved if they are to pick up anything from next weeks clash against Dewsbury.