Head coach Alan Kilshaw is leaving the south Leeds outfit after two successful years with head held high, and buoyed by the goodwill of the Parksiders’ board and supporters.
Kilshaw, who is joining Betfred Championship outfit Swinton at the beginning of October partly because the Lions are closer to his home in Warrington, joined Hunslet at a difficult time, the club having parted company with his predecessor Gary Thornton following a disappointing Betfred League 1 reverse at Coventry.
Many of the players blamed themselves, rather than Thornton, for that defeat, but `Killer’, whose impressive cv included guiding Rochdale Hornets to promotion with a sensational victory at Toulouse several years earlier, displayed superb management skills in steadying the ship to such an extent that his side finished second in the table this year before, partly through being hit by injuries, missing out to play-off surprise packets North Wales Crusaders in the qualifying semi-final.
Nevertheless, CEO Neil Hampshire was able to remind fans in his end-of-season message that the 2023 campaign has been Hunslet’s best since the promotion-winning 2014 adventure.
`Killer’, looking back on his successful spell at the South Leeds Stadium, said: “There were essentially two different challenges during my term of tenure. The immediate challenge, when I was appointed, was to gel a group of players together. We inevitably went through a period of transition, culminating in the season just gone, in which the challenge was maintaining our high performance levels. We generally did that and were unbeaten in our home league fixtures.
“The whole experience at Hunslet has been a very enjoyable one for me. When I arrived there was something of a disconnect between the team and the supporters, but that’s been more than repaired, there’s a great rapport these days, which is something I’m proud of.
“I’m also delighted that Hunslet are in a better place, on and off the field, than when I arrived, and that remains the case despite the disappointment of us not reaching the promotion play-off Grand Final. That’s sport, though, things don’t always go they way you want, and happy endings aren’t guaranteed. I cannot leave, however, without paying tribute to the many fine people at the club, who have been very supportive, particularly such as chairman Kenny Sykes, CEO Neil Hampshire, Finance Director Phil Hodgson, director Damian Irvine and vice-president Peter Jarvis. It was a truly enjoyable experience working with that group and everyone else at Hunslet.”
`Killer’ rates his biggest achievement as guiding the side to an unbeaten home league record, prior to the play-offs, in his final season. “We picked up some major scalps along the way,” he reflects, “and inflicted the only defeat on champions Dewsbury. And although Keighley enjoyed a 100 per cent record in lifting the title in 2022, we accounted for them in the Challenge Cup that year – and it’s well-documented, even in their own camp, that they only beat us in the Good Friday league fixture at the South Leeds Stadium through a late try that arose through a clear forward pass.
“My worst moment at Hunslet is how it ended, with the defeat by North Wales, which didn’t just involve the game itself. The week started brilliantly for me personally, when my partner Hannah gave birth to Beau Isaac, but gradually deteriorated on the rugby front. We were already without injured forwards Harvey Hallas and Lewis Wray before Myles Lawford had his teeth knocked out training with his parent club Bradford. Oli Burton was then recalled by Batley, and Johnny Campbell had to pull out on the Friday with a leg injury. And, in the game itself, stand-in halfback Fraser Stroud had to come off in the early stages with concussion. As I say, though, that can be the nature of sport.
“But my abiding memory of Hunslet, a long-lasting best moment really, will be of working with a great group of people, on and off the field, and especially of enjoying training with the players (even getting benefit man Jimmy Watson into the gym without crocs on!) assistant coaches Ryan Jackson and Danny Burton, and the rest of the backroom staff. It’s a great club with a bright future, I like to think I’ve made a significant contribution, and I wish my successor Dean Muir all the best .”
Chairman Kenny Sykes said: “On behalf of the club, I’d like to thank Alan for all of his hard work and effort. He came in at a difficult time but has definitely left us in a better place, and his influence in strengthening and professionalising the backroom staff – coaches, medical, strength and conditioning, physios etc – has definitely been of benefit and will be something we will continue to build on. We wish him well in his new role -but not when they play us of course!”