Hunslet 20 Keighley Cougars 20: Parksiders hang on after Cougars claw back deficit
HONOURS between Hunslet and Keighley ended even, 20-20 – the second time a match has finished all-square at the South Leeds Stadium in recent weeks, following a draw with Doncaster – but Alan Kilshaw’s first game in charge of the Parksiders could so easily have been a home victory.
Kilshaw, who was appointed last week following the controversial sacking of Gary Thornton, looked set to get off to a winning start when his side, with new signing Reece Chapman-Smith highly impressive at full-back and Jordan Andrade a colossus at prop, went into the last few minutes 20-10 in front.
Hunslet had turned around an early 10-point deficit of their own to establish what should have been a winning lead, but Keighley boss Rhys Lovegrove’s charges proved that they could do exactly the same in a stunning finale.
Committed home defence ensured that Aaron Levy was held up but when the ball was swung wide, centre Charlie Graham was first to his own dink to the corner, to give the Cougars a lifeline with only two or three minutes remaining.
Jason Miller’s touchline conversion attempt drifted wide but Keighley were in no mood to be denied, blasting a hole in the Parksiders’ defence from the restart for Dalton Desmond-Walker to charge over from 20 metres.
Miller’s second goal restored parity, and that was how it stayed until the final hooter, although Keighley’s belated expansive approach certainly set home nerves jangling. Both sides had gone into the fixture on the back of defeats at the hands of a Coventry Bears outfit that is rather stronger than many in Rugby League’s heartlands seem to believe.
Keighley had lost 24-18 at Butts Park Arena nine days earlier while Hunslet’s recent 46-44 reverse in the Midlands had led to Thornton’s exit.
Kilshaw had rallied the squad following his appointment last Tuesday and could argue that he got the response he wanted from players who felt that the collapse at Coventry had been their fault, and not Thornton’s.
And the fact that the Parksiders were without experienced figures such as captain Duane Straugheir and scrum-half Dom Brambani (both self-isolating) and stand-off Simon Brown (ribs) certainly augers well for the rest of the campaign.
Halfbacks Jy-Mel Coleman and Dave Gibbons, however, performed more than creditably in the home cause, especially facing the maestro that is Scott Murrell, who was arguably Keighley’s best player and who orchestrated the Cougars to fine effect.
That was especially apparent in the early stages, when Keighley very much controlled matters and were good value for the game’s opening try, for Dan Parker, which came a minute after Hunslet’s Alex Brown had spilled possession in the act of touching down.
The Cougars were soon 10-0 up, Taylor Prell dotting down after Kieran Moran and Murrell had linked.
It was hard to see anything other than a Keighley win at that stage but, somehow, the Parksiders went 12-10 up by the break, that man Andrade twice crashing through a posse of defenders to strengthen his Jamaican credentials.
Vila Halafihi nipped in from dummy-half four minutes after the restart, after Wayne Reittie had gone close, and, although Coleman was unable to maintain his 100 per cent conversion rate with the boot, the stand-off landed two subsequent penalties to put Hunslet in command.
Keighley, however, had other ideas in a real thriller.
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