A devastating burst of five tries in 10 minutes either side of half time saw Hunslet Hawks crash to a disappointing defeat against Sheffield Eagles at the South Leeds Stadium on Friday night.
Heading towards the half time hooter with a 6-0 lead, Hunslet contrived to concede twice in four minutes before the break and were blown away by three more tries in the opening seven minutes of the second half.
The Hawks headed into the Kingstone Press Championship match in good spirits after last weekend’s win over Doncaster in the Summer Bash and would have had high hopes of completing a South Yorkshire double before kick off. However the Eagles would prove to be a much tougher proposition, as they sought a victory to keep them in contention for a top four finish.
Coach Barry Eaton made changes to the side who had seen off Doncaster last Sunday. Jack Lee replaced the injured Robbie Ward at hooker and Brad Brennan and Ryan Backhouse returned to the starting line up in place of Charlie Martin and Liam Mackay.
On a gorgeous, if chilly evening in South Leeds the two teams and both sets of supporters held an emotional minute’s applause for Margaret Gibbon, known as “Mrs Hunslet”, who sadly passed away recently.
The opening exchanges were very much an arm wrestle as both sides sought to establish superiority. Hunslet started well, having the better of the field position, but while there was plenty of graft there was very little in the way of craft as the Hawks seemed to lack the cutting edge in attack to breach the wall of black shirts in the Eagles defence.
Andy Kain was probing with the boot in terms of forcing the Eagles to start their sets deep in their own half, but in terms of creating attacking opportunities, there was very little for the home crowd to get excited about.
Defensively though the Hawks also looked solid. It was 12 minutes before Sheffield even had a sniff of the Hunslet line, and they were comfortably kept out by the home side in the first half hour, a stark contrast to what would happen in the remainder of the game.
The deadlock was finally broken on 26 minutes and it was Hunslet who deservedly took the lead. A penalty in midfield gave the Hawks the platform to mount an attack and it was Jack Lee who burrowed over from short range close to the posts, making Danny Ansell’s conversion a formality and giving the hosts a 6-0 lead.
With Sheffield barely having threatened the Hunslet line the collapse that started on 36 minutes was totally unexpected. The defensive line was broken for the first time by Eagles half back Kyle Briggs and the Hawks were slow to reorganise allowing Menzie Yere to find a huge gap to race over for his first try of what would become a fruitful night.
Sheffield were now very much on the front foot and spent the last few minutes of the first half camped in the Hawks half. Some desperate defending kept the Eagles out for a time, but too often Hunslet spilled the ball as they tried to see out time. They were finally punished right on the half time hooter as Briggs and full back Quentin Laulu Togagae combined to send Sam Smeaton over under the posts. Briggs converted to give the Eagles an undeserved 10-6 lead at the break.
Hunslet heads will have been down during the half time interval and they could not pick themselves up for the second half as Sheffield won the game in the next ten minutes. Hunslet knocked on from the opening kick and The Eagles capitalised immediately as Tony Tonks barged over, Briggs converting to extend the lead to 10 points.
Four minutes later another Hunslet knock on handed Yere the chance for him to score his second try. He then completed his hat trick on the Eagles next set of six, Briggs converting from the touchline and suddenly Sheffield were 20 points in front.
Scott Turner added a sixth try for the Eagles on 51 minutes and Hunslet were finished. Despite the deficit the home supporters never stopped backing their side, and that backing seemed to lift the Hawks a little. Jimmy Watson once again was the catalyst for a Hunslet attack, making a great run to put the Hawks on the attack and Liam Mackay scooted over to give those fans a glimmer of hope.
That hope was short lived as Yere crossed for his 4th try on 58 minutes, after Hunslet were penalised for a shoulder charge in midfield. That score sucked all life out of the home side and the last 20 minutes were purely a case of the side going through the motions. Even when they did get close to the Eagles line they were punished by a loose pass which allowed Eagles winger Rob Worrincy to race 95 metres for an interception try, rubbing salt into the Hawks’ wounds.
The Eagles added two more scores, Michael Knowles and Togagae the try scorers both converted by Briggs to bring up the half century for the Eagles, with the final hooter bringing blessed relief to the majority of those inside the stadium.
Coach Barry Eaton will need to galvanise his troops before next weekend’s long trip to Cumbria to take on Whitehaven. The two sides are separated by just two points before ‘Havens clash with Leigh on Sunday. A win on the road next week will be a significant one if Hunslet hope to retain Championship status next season. The sooner the Hawks put this forgettable night behind them, the better.
HAWKS: Watson, Briscoe, Keinhorst, Maun, Finigan, Kain, Ansell, Haley, Lee, Brennan, Backhouse, Casey, Yates. INTERCHANGE: Tebb, Lyons, Houston, Mackay.