Hunslet entertained visitors York City Knights in the opening fixture of the 2011 co-operative championship. Confidence should have been high in both camps after good wins in the opening round of the Challenge Cup, especially York after there 132-0 drubbing off Northumbria University. An unusually mild and sunny day greeted the teams as they took the pitch.
Hunslet’s recent habit of taking the game by the scruff of the neck and scoring early continued as the forwards took the game to York and as early as 8 minutes some excellent forward play brought Hunslet within 10 metres of the Knights line. An excellent pass from Danny Grimshaw saw Stuart Kain, a late replacement for Dave Clayton who was injured during the warm up, go over in the corner. A difficult conversion from the side line was narrowly missed by Danny Ratcliffe. The Hawks defence was yet again on top form but on 14 minutes a short range drive from Jack Lee proved unstoppable and with an unconverted try York had pulled level.
In no time Hunslet had regained their composure. Their defence was matched in attack with Tommy Haughey and David March making good ground and Paul March making a nuisance of himself with some inventive kicking. After the good news that Elliot Kear had signed until the end of the season on loan, he showed just why Hunslet supporters were delighted that his stay had been extended when on 27 minutes he latched on to a pass and ghosted past the York defence. The try was converted by Danny Ratcliffe making the scores 10-4. Three minutes later Danny Ratcliffe was on the score sheet again when a clever inside ball from Joe McLocklan saw Danny cruise past the watching Knights defence. The conversion of his own try put the Hawks 16-4 ahead.
The Hawks were now piling on the pressure with forwards and backs combining forces to keep York constantly on the back foot and all the pressure was too much for the Knights when Ritchie Barnett twisted and turned over the line. This was just reward for Barnett, who was showing the ability and strength expected from a player of his experience and build. Barnett’s try proved to be the last of the half but a 20-4 lead had the Hawks supporters expecting their team to go on and clench a victory in the opening league game of the season.
Ritchie Barnett continued his best game of the season into the second half with some excellent cover tackling keeping the York attack at bay. The Knights must have thought they were in for in for a second half that was a continuation of Hunslet’s dominant first half display, when Danny Grimshaw scored the best try of the game tearing the defence apart to score a solo try from half way. Grimshaw made sure of an easy conversion for Danny Ratcliffe giving Hunslet a seemingly unassailable lead of 26-4. No one could foresee what was to happen in the following 25 minutes, when Hunslet collapsed like an England one day cricket team, letting York cross the line three times in 12 minutes with tries from Steve Lewis, Dave Sutton and Matt Garside all three easily converted by Chris Thorman, bringing the score to 26-22. Hunslet’s lack of concentration instilled some belief into the York side that they could pull this game out of the bag.
The Hawks defence regrouped but had to withstand 10 minutes of constant York pressure. Both sets of fans were now biting their nails, but it was the visitors who were celebrating when Matty Garside slid through the Hunslet defence to ground the ball under the posts. The inevitable Thorman conversion gave York a 26-28 lead with only two minutes to go. The Hunslet rushed to the half way line to restart the game, a knock on from the restart gave Hunslet the ball and unbelievably two plays later a reckless tackle gave Danny Ratcliffe a chance to equalise. Ratcliffe must have been as nervous as the Hawks supporters but showed his composure to slot the ball between the posts bringing the scores level as the final hooter sounded.
Hunslet must show more of the first half and less of the second when they take on Widnes Vikings, who are most people’s favourites to take this years title. Some of Hunslet’s play in the first half was top draw and a joy to watch but they must keep switched on if they are to continue the progress they have showed under Paul March’s leadership.
See you at Widnes next week.