THE LAZENBY Cup is back at Headingley after Leeds Rhinos turned the annual pre-season derby on its head yesterday.
In awful conditions, Rhinos went from zeroes to heroes by scoring 28 unanswered points in the second half, after trailing 14-0 at the break.
Rhinos were awful in the opening period, making a host of errors and struggling to get out of their own end, but the situation was reversed after the interval as Hunslet Hawks’ hands were prised off the trophy.
Overall, the game was a tremendous advertisement for summer rugby, partly as a result of amateur rugby league’s Yorkshire Cup final being staged at South Leeds Stadium two days before one of Hunslet’s biggest pay-days.
The tussle between Drighlington and Queens left the surface badly cut up and rain and snow made the situation worse.
Rhinos’ groundstaff provided frost covers and worked tirelessly, along with Hawks staff and volunteers, to get the game on, but conditions ensured it was never going to be a spectacle.
For the players, it must have been like running on a treacle sponge and there was little opportunity for either team to display their skills. In a word, it was a slog.
Hunslet, in their first pre-season game, were the better side by far in the first half and there was no sign for the first 54 minutes of Rhinos getting into the contest.
It wasn’t a spectacular performance by Hawks, but they were solid, they controlled the ball better and their defence was impressive.
They at least looked like they wanted to be out there. It was a big opportunity for Rhinos’ players – 13 of whom had Super League experience – to put down a marker and show they could step into the senior side if injuries strike this year.
Few of them did their cause much good, though Ashton Golding once again did well at full-back, but it was a different story in the second half as whatever assistant-coach Chris Plume said during the break did the trick.
Leeds – helped by a 5-0 penalty count from referee Mike Woodhead – showed great character and determination. They held on to the ball a lot better and it was Hawks who made the mistakes.
Stevie Ward, who battled hard throughout, went close and then academy prop George Milton crashed over off a pass by Elliot Minchella, who came off the bench to play at acting-half.
And a comeback was on five minutes later when Handley finished strongly at the corner after Golding and Luke Briscoe had handled, though it was too far out for Jordan Lilley to land his second conversion.
Six minutes after that Rhinos were in front, Brad Singleton regathering his own kick to storm over for a try which Lilley improved.
Hawks will feel they let themselves down after that as two errors near their own line allowed Leeds to seal the game.
Handley pounced on an error to score his second try and then, after Liam Sutcliffe had fluffed a drop goal attempt, Hawks immediately lost possession and Jimmy Keinhorst was handed a simple touchdown, to which Lilley added his fourth goal.
The second half was in total contrast to a Hunslet-dominated first.
Big Brad Brennan opened the scoring for the hosts after five minutes, crashing over from Danny Ansell’s pass close to the line, after Leeds had knocked-on twice at play-the-balls and been penalised for a ball steal.
Brannan, signed from Batley Bulldogs, was well thought of when he began his career with Warrington Wolves and he has the size and power to make an impression at Championship level.
The only other try of the opening period came just before the hooter when Leeds turned the ball over near their own line, something they did with monotonous regularity and this time Hawks made it count when Liam Mackay barged over from Matthew Tebb’s pass.
Danny Ansell, who did a decent job pulling the strings at half-back, landed his second conversion and then a long-range penalty after the hooter had sounded. For all their territory, Hunslet only had one other chance before the break, Richie Barnett being held up over the line.
Leeds’ only opportunities came mid-way through the half when Andy Yates, against his former club, was held up on the line and then Lilley and Golding worked play left, but Handley stepped into touch before getting the ball down.
Trialist Nathan Darby showed some good signs for Hawks, who did have the better of the opening exchanges after half-time, but once Leeds got points on the board they stepped up a gear and the hosts were left in their wake.
A concern for Leeds was an injury to forward Mitch Achurch, who came off in the first half after taking a finger in an eye. He went to hospital after the game, continuing a run of bad luck which saw him miss the Boxing Day game due to an injury suffered in the warm-up.
Hawks’ Danny Grimshaw, Brad Brennan and Aaron Lyons suffered “knocks”, but none was believed to be serious.
The attendance was a very healthy 1,418 – 500 up on last year – providing Hunslet with a vital cash injection.
Unfortunately both camps turned out players wearing numbers different to those listed on the teamsheet. That’s disappointing in a game marketed as a chance for Hunslet fans to see their new signings in action and Leeds supporters to get a glimpse of the club’s next generation.
Hunslet Hawks: Conway, Finigan, Mvududu, Cook, Barnett, Grimshaw, Ansell, Haley, Lee, Brennan, Casey, Broughton, Darby. Subs: Kain, Tebb, Cosgrove, Mackay, Brickwood, Lyons, Reed, Houston.
Leeds Rhinos: Golding, Handley, L Briscoe, Keinhorst, Duckworth, Sutcliffe, Lilley, Mulhern, R Ward, Yates, Achurch, S Ward, Singleton. Subs: Walters, Minchella, Milton, Holmes, Frankland, Brierley.