LATE-SEASON RECRUIT Luke Hardbottle created history in Hunslet Hawks’ Kingstone Press Championship One Grand Final triumph, but his first thought was for a luckless clubmate.
Hardbottle – a former Leeds Rhinos academy player – made his Hawks debut in the 17-16 golden point extra-time win over Oldham at Headingley Carnegie two days ago.
He had been playing in Australia and was due to link-up with Hunslet next season, but they signed him just before the transfer deadline as possible cover in case of injuries and he was drafted into the side for the final after Liam Mackay was ruled out due to a dislocated elbow.
“It’s unbelievable, I am absolutely over the moon,” said the 25-year-old Hunslet Parkside product. “I take my hat off to the boys; I have only been here two weeks, but it was outstanding from them all.
“I came in as a last resort and the poor kid who got injured, I feel sorry for him. All the boys made me feel welcome and it was a pretty crazy way to make my debut. It’s not easy, but it feels like home straight away. They looked after me, so it hasn’t been too bad.
“I have only been back in this country three weeks and training for two, so to go straight into a Grand Final, it’s strange – surreal. When I signed for this year it was just because of injuries, but the poor kid got injured against York last week and I came in for him.
“I have donated my medal to him, because he has been playing all year and he deserves it more than me. I had to do a job and I am thankful to Hunslet for the opportunity.”
Hardbottle, who had a season with York City Knights in 2010, signed a 2015 contract before knowing which division Hawks would be playing in.
Promotion to the Championship means clashes with the likes of Bradford Bulls, London Broncos, Leigh Centurions and Featherstone Rovers and he enthused: “It (the Grand Final win) is a good start for next year and we will just build on that.
“We are going to be playing some good teams. Hopefully we can get a few more players on board and go from there.”
Of his return to England, Hardbottle said: “I have been playing in Australia for just short of four years, playing for a team called Central Newcastle in New South Wales. I came home and decided to sign with Hunslet for next year. It was special to win the Grand Final at Headingley, because that’s where I’ve grown up playing rugby league.
“It feels like home and it is good to be back at Hunslet.”
The Grand Final will be remembered as one of the great lower division contests, with Hunslet shading it thanks to Thomas Coyle’s one-pointer six minutes into sudden-death overtime.
“What a game,” Hardbottle said.
“It was absolutely outstanding. Credit to both teams,it was just an arm wrestle, but good for us that we won it.
“It was a massive effort from the boys, we just dug in, stuck in there and came out with the goods.”