A LAST-GASP try meant the Lazenby Cup remained at Headingley after a thrilling derby at South Leeds Stadium.
Hunslet Hawks seemed to have done enough to secure a deserved draw, having led twice and then levelled in the second half, but Charlie Brown’s touchdown a minute from time earned Leeds Rhinos’ young side a 22-18 victory.
It was probably the best – and most entertaining – of the modern clashes between the city’s two professional sides and it would have been a fair result had it finished 18-18.
Hawks’ League One season does not start until March, though they will play two cup ties before then.
They actually looked better prepared than in previous years, when their season has started earlier. They defended well under sustained pressure at times and did some good things with the ball.
Rhinos’ experienced players all did reasonably well and their youngsters will have benefited from a competitive hit-out against strong opposition.
The game’s outstanding player was Leeds scrum-half Jordan Lilley, who had a spell on dual-registration with Hawks last year.
He organised Leeds’ attack, creating three of their four tries, kicked well and made one superb try-saving tackle.
Rhinos were without Grand Final winner Jimmy Keinhorst and teenage winger Ryan Jones, who both pulled out due to illness.
Brown was drafted into the side on the wing and Jack Norfolk, who had been originally named on the bench, started at centre, Leeds opting to go with six – rather than seven – substitutes.
Keinhorst’s absence meant Rhinos’ squad included only two members of their Old Trafford side, Mitch Garbutt and Josh Walters, though Mitch Achurch played in last year’s Challenge Cup final triumph.
The visitors’ 19’ featured four members of this year’s England academy squad: Jack Wray, Josh Jordan-Roberts, Cameron Smith and Mikolaj Oledzki.
The latter two – who have yet to actually play in the under-19s after stepping up from the foundation academy – are on stand-by to attend Rhinos’ training camp in Florida next week.
Hawks’ line-up included nine former Leeds players, plus trialists Lee Mapals – back at the club after being axed a couple of years ago – and Jamie Milburn.
Hawks went ahead before Leeds had possession, Danny Ansell slicing through after the hosts won a penalty at the end of their first set. Simon Brown converted.
Rhinos pressed strongly after that and almost opened their account through Jordan-Roberts, but the 17-year-old was held just short on the last, following Jordan Baldinson’s offload.
Baldwinson then made a superb tackle at the other end to keep out Hawks’ hooker George Flanagan after he seemed to have spotted a gap from acting-half.
Successive penalties put Leeds back on the attack and Achurch and Garbutt were both held up over the line, by ex-Rhinos winger James Duckworth, before Baldwinson drove the ball in and offloaded to Garbutt, who blasted over for a try which Lilley converted.
That was on 16 minutes, but Hawks were back in front eight later when a cutout pass found Richie Barnett on the left wing and he finished strongly at the corner.
Brown, whose combination with Ansell will be crucial for Hawks this year, landed a magnificent goal from the touchline, but back-to-back tries edged Leeds ahead within four minutes.
Lilley made a break which was finished by Walters and the scrum-half – who captained Leeds on the night – then made some quick metres from a penalty before picking out Ashton Golding with a clever reverse pass.
He converted both and then made a sensational tackle to force Marcus Elliott into touch after the pacy full-back looked set to score from deep inside his own half.
Hawks prop Michael Haley though he had scored at the start of the second half, but referee Jonathan Roberts decided he had knocked-on over the line from a pass by lively substitute hooker Jack Lee.
Errors by Rhinos allowed Hunslet to remain in the visitors’ half and they levelled with a quality try when Liam Mackay’s neat chip picked out Mufaro Mvududu close to the line.
Brown maintained his 100 per cent record with the boot to square things eight minutes after the break.
Achurch was held up over the line from a pass by Wray, who showed some good touches and then Flanagan went for glory from acting-half, but ran out of steam just short on the last.
Golding was a threat with ball in hand for Leeds and he made a clean break and looked as though he could have gone all the way, but opted to use Baldwinson in support and Ansell snuffed out the danger with a terrific tackle.
Flanagan became the latest player to be held up over the line, six minutes from time, but there was a final twist.
Leeds seemed to have butchered a chance when the defence got down to snuff out an attack involving Lilley, Golding and Ben Brady.
A drop goal seemed the obvious option, but Lilley instead kicked perfectly to the corner and Brown made an outstanding catch to dab the ball down by the flag.
The crowd for the first Friday night fixture since the Lazenby Cup was revived 11 years ago was a respectable 1,196.
That, though, was just 38 more than turned up at the same ground last Sunday for Chev Walker’s testimonial game between Hunslet community clubs Warriors and Club Parkside.
The Lazenby Cup provides a welcome boost to Hawks’ finances, but Rhinos could help out further by including more senior players.
The penalty count finished 9-4 in Rhinos’ favour (4-3 to Leeds in the first half). Roberts – better known as a Super League touchjudge – did a solid job.
Hunslet Hawks: Elliott, Agoro, Duckworth, Mvududu, Barnett, S Brown, Ansell, Carbutt, Flanagan, Reed, Crane, Normington, Mackay. Subs Lee, Tebb, Haley, Darby,Bell, Buttery, Milburn, Mapals, Watson.
Leeds Rhinos: Golding, Handley, Norfolk, Brierley, C Brown, Sanderson, Lilley, Garbutt, Brady, Baldwinson, Achurch, Jordan-Roberts, Walters. Subs Wray, Flynn, Smith, Hallas, Oledzki, Barker.
Referee: Jonathan Roberts (Leeds). Attendance: 1,196.