HUNSLET slipped to an 18-16 reverse at Doncaster in their first game of the 2023 Betfred League One campaign – but the result has only served to add to the resolve of head coach Alan Kilshaw’s rebuilt squad.
The Parksiders would have drawn the contest had Jake Sweeting’s conversion attempt of Jack Render’s 73rd minute try not rebounded off an upright, although the south Leeds outfit could still have squared matters had a home player been penalised for what looked like a high shot on Render a few minutes later.
Ultimately, however, Hunslet missed out because of a couple of conceded tries in the closing stages of the first half.
After Joe Burton had nosed the Parksiders ahead on four minutes, Sweeting improving, the Dons levelled on 16 minutes, Connor Robinson converting Elliot Hall’s score.
And, with the sides looking set to go in at half-time at 6-6, the hosts turned the contest on its head with tries in the last two minutes for Loui McConnell and Tom Halliday, Robinson adding both goals to leave Hunslet 18-6 down and facing a problem.
It was a problem, however, that they addressed superbly, clamping down on Doncaster’s attack and creating several opportunities.
Captain Steve Crossley crashed over as the hour-mark beckoned, Sweeting’s conversion reducing the arrears to six points. And a draw looked likely when Render pounced on 73 minutes, only for Sweeting uncharacteristically to hit the wrong side of the woodwork with his shot at goal.
Kilshaw said: “Jake apologised to everyone afterwards but we shouldn’t be relying on goal kicks to win us games, Jake will kick that 99 times out of 100 and will be stronger for it. The try on the stroke of half-time, scored on the last tackle, was the killer.
“It was very disappointing to lose the game. We started very well and after having gone in front had a couple of chances to double our lead, which we didn’t take, so we certainly have to be more clinical, plus we missed experienced loose forward Michael Knowles when he had to come off with a dead-leg.”
He continued: “In addition we invited the Dons back onto the match with a bit of indiscipline, which we are addressing. But we did much better in the second period and denied Doncaster any further score. And our players were adamant after the match that we can only improve on a display which in many respects was satisfactory, in fact we’ll play worse this season and win.”
`Killer’ concluded: “We have to be better, we know that. But our bench performed well in the closing stages and we shouldn’t have been beaten in what will be one of our toughest away games of the season. There are far more positives than negatives to take from the match, especially as we are still bedding in a new-look team, while Doncaster have made few changes to their squad and are therefore a well co-ordinated unit, especially at halfback. It will be four-to-six weeks before we’ll be approaching our best, as players who are new to each other continue to gel; our attacking combinations will only fully develop in games. And I have to pay tribute to our supporters, who travelled in numbers and really got behind us.”