HUNSLET HAWKS lifted the Lazenby Cup after a thrilling 20-16 win over visitors Leeds Rhinos in a see-sawing contest
Hawks dominated the first half, were rocked by a strong Rhinos fightback and somehow found the energy to rally at the end.
Many of the Leeds side were getting a first taste of playing against men and none of their under-19s look ready yet for first team action.
But – though it is difficult to tell from games in pre-season – Hunslet could be in for a good year.
Even without key men of David March and James Coyle’s quality – plus Liam Hood who is set to begin training with them tonight – they were too good for Leeds in the first period and deservedly led 10-4 at the break.
Hawks defended strongly and were more structured with the ball and the way they kept a strong Leeds pack at bay was impressive.
Rhinos’ big guns came out to play in the second half though, with Liam Sutcliffe taking the game by the throat, behind a pack who stepped up a couple of gears.
Brad Singleton and Mitch Achurch, in particular, got Hawks back-pedalling and Rhinos would have been out of sight if they had taken their chances.
But they didn’t and after being on the rack for quarter of the game Hawks somehow found the gas to counter-attack, scoring a rapid brace of tries which won them the game.
Leeds should have been able to kick on from a winning position and the fact they didn’t was largely due to inexperience, plus Hawks’ resolve.
It was an eclectic Rhinos side, with a vastly experienced starting pack playing in front of novice backs. Rhinos prop Kylie Leuluai, 35, was older than numbers one and two put together, 17-year-olds Ash Handley and Torin Longstaff.
The latter is a trialist from Featherstone who was given an opportunity after Lewis Jones, who had been named in the original team, was pulled out due to rugby union commitments with Leeds Carnegie.
On the left-wing was Ashton Golding, who has only just turned 17. Rhinos had to gain official permission from the RFL for him to play, because of his age.
The rest of the backs, including lone first-teamer Sutcliffe, were 19, but the only player without senior experience in the starting pack was 18-year-old hooker Robbie Ward.
The bench was made up of three 18-year-olds, plus Rob Mulhern, 19, who is on the comeback trail after suffering a broken leg last season.
Elliot Minchella, who captained Rhinos’ academy on their recent French tour, was ruled out due to a shoulder injury.
Hawks drew first blood after five minutes when John Oakes split the defence and Danny Grimshaw was in support to go over, Danny Ansell converting.
Rhinos responded with an improvised try out of the blue nine minutes later. Ben White began the move, Sutcliffe and Achurch contributed a couple of clever offloads, White chimed back in in support and Jordan Harper showed impressive pace to finish, though there was no goal.
Young Longstaff did well to take a high, swirling kick from Liam Mackay under heavy pressure and had a running chance at the other end, when he was well tackled into touch by Jimmy Watson.
He would probably have scored a little later had Handley been able to provide a decent pass following Harper’s break, but the ball sailed past him into touch.
In the final seconds of the half Leeds put in a tremendous defensive set to force a hand-over 20 metres out and Sutcliffe almost made it count, but spilled the ball as he tried to twist and stretch over.
Other than the try, those were Leeds’ only real attacking opportunities in an opening period played mainly deep in their territory.
Rhinos were pinned back by some excellent Hawks defence, plus errors as they tried to clear their line.
Hunslet had little opportunity with the ball in their opening trial game, a 26-0 loss at Featherstone Rovers on New Year’s Day, but they were much sharper this time.
Mackay was impressive at loose-forward and Leeds’ defence had trouble dealing with the destructive running of Oakes.
Some clever kicking near the Leeds line also put the visitors under pressure and a drop out led to Hawks’ second try, Lee Mapals squeezing over at the corner on 29 minutes.
There was no conversion and Hunslet had to settle for a six- point interval lead, though they could have been further in front on weight of pressure.
Leeds came out with more of a spring in their step after half-time, aided by a string of penalties and an unforced knock-on from Jamaine Akaidere.
Leeds added a second try just four minutes following the re-start, when Josh Walters finished well from Ward’s pass after some fierce pressure.
White landed a terrific touchline conversion to make it 10-10, but Leeds blew a chance to go ahead in the next set when Ward broke the defence and put Harper over, but the pass was well forward.
That was only a brief respite for Hawks though as Chris Clarkson stormed over following good work by Golding and White, who also converted.
Akaidere made up for his earlier blunder by getting himself in the right place to deny Leeds a third try, when he intercepted Achurch’s pass following more magic from Sutcliffe.
That proved crucial, After not getting out of their half for 23 minutes, Hawks levelled from their first penalty of the half, the excellent Oakes crashing over from Matthew Tebb’s pass.
Ansell fluffed the conversion, but added the extras to complete the scoring after he had shown good strength to twist over with 10 minutes left.
Hunslet Hawks: Watson, Mapals, Brickwood, Maun, Akaidere, Grimshaw, Ansell, Haley, Canterbury, Clarke, Broughton, Oakes, Mackay. Subs: Tebb, Coyle, Lyons, Houston, Woods, Reed.
Leeds Rhinos: Handley, Longstaff, Walters, Harper, Golding, Sutcliffe, White, Leuluai, R Ward, Singleton, Clarkson, Achurch, Bailey. Subs: Frankland, Mulhern, Stableford, Milton.
Referee: Tom Crashley (Wakefield).