“Defence was the key!”
That’s the considered view of Hunslet’s head coach Alan Kilshaw a couple of days after the Parksiders’ 22-8 win over North Wales Crusaders in Betfred League One.
It’s a long-lasting truism in Rugby League that keeping the opposition’s score down significantly increases the chances of victory, and that was exactly how it turned out at the South Leeds Stadium.
Hunslet, who were 8-0 adrift to one of the best sides in the section after having lost winger Kieron Lawton in the early stages with an injured ankle, got back into the contest when stand-off Jake Sweeting dummied his way over from short range shortly before half-time.
Sweeting duly improved his own score and the Parksiders, adopting something of a stranglehold on Crusaders outfit that has been piling up the points this year, went on to post an impressive win earned with three tries in a ten-minute period straddling the hour-mark, with Nathan Newbound, Harvey Hallas (after former North Wales’ former Hunslet prop Jordan Andrade had been sin-binned for a late challenge on Harvey Whiteley) and Joe Burton pouncing.
Newbound’s score owed much to Harvey Hallas’ neat back-flip pass, Hallas’ touchdown made the most of Andrade’s absence, and Burton dotted down for a telling grubber by Josh Jordan-Roberts, who showed rare finesse to add to his phenomenal work-rate.
Sweeting converted the first two efforts and the contest closed with North Wales’ Dave Gibbons (another ex-Hunslet man) and the Parksiders’ Lewis Wray copping red cards following an extended skirmish.
It was the third successive game in which Hunslet – for whom Harvey Hallas and Jordan-Roberts were particularly outstanding – had kept the opposition scoreless in the second period. Kilshaw said: “We lost Kieron Lawton early on, which led to some disruption, with a centre having to move out to the wing and a second row having to switch to the centre. Then we conceded a try and a penalty, so the start wasn’t easy, especially as for whatever reason there was no rhythm to the game. It was very slow and that doesn’t suit us.
“But, other than that opening try, our defence was very good, highlighted by the set before half-time when we kept North Wales, who have two or three players who are very dangerous close to the line, out. Even after the break, when we led 12-8, we had to defend three consecutive sets. We did just that, which is a measure of our spirit and our mental toughness. Our attack, meanwhile, will improve as pitches dry out and our new-look side continues to gel. I’d rather it be this way round than the other.
‘Killer’ continued: “It was very pleasing to convincingly win a game in which so many factors – Kieron’s injury, going behind and the slow tempo of the match – didn’t suit us. Having said that, we put ourselves under some pressure by losing possession too often and we have to improve our discipline in that regard, otherwise we’re likely to pay a price. Those issues will be rectified, though, given the strong character endemic in the squad. That character has been illustrated by the fact that although the narrow defeat at Doncaster in the opening league game could have affected confidence, the players held it together. That’s partly down to the experienced men we’ve brought in, and it’s also because of the attitude of the rest of the squad. And it’s also due to the work we do in training. We’re not only fit, we also put the players under pressure in training, to make sure that they’re comfortable being uncomfortable in match situations.”
Hunslet’s coach concluded: “Fraser Stroud, who hasn’t had a great deal of game-time, did a solid job at scrum-half, although he could be more dominant with his talking, while Jake Sweeting was also good and took his try, which came at an important time, very well. And our pack is looking good. Steve Crossley and Harvey Hallas were immense at prop, with Harvey creating one try and scoring another, and Sam Hallas was very effective at hooker and then at loose forward. Michael Knowles had a big game and Josh Jordan-Roberts was huge in the second row – and showed delicate kicking skills to create Joe Burton’s touchdown.”
Have to be good in defence v Keighley. They are a division higher. But I reckon it will be close.