Sunday’s narrow defeat at the hands of Keighley Cougars in the Betfred Challenge Cup will stand Hunslet’s young players in good stead, insists head coach Alan Kilshaw.

The Cougars, of the Betfred Championship, had to hang on for the final hooter as the League 1 hosts, led superbly by veteran Michael Knowles in the unaccustomed role of stand-off through injuries and illnesses, came agonisingly close to overturning a 16-14 deficit against a visiting outfit reduced to twelve men following the dismissal of former Hunslet player Lewis Young for alleged striking.

But the Parksiders, unable to notch what would have been the winning score, missed out on a fourth-round tie, despite matching Keighley’s three tries in recovering from a 12-0 deficit.

Adam Ryder – with a neat flick-on from an opportunity created by Morgan Punchard – outstanding youngster Brad Wheeler and Joe Burton (the last two from telling Knowles passes) all crossed in the rally but Punchard was unable to quite improve the first two efforts.

Knowles, taking over the kicking duties for Burton’s 71st minute touchdown, landed the touchline conversion – the 200th goal of his career, he claimed afterwards – but Keighley, who had benefited from the first-half sin-binning of Sam Hallas for kicking out (in response, Hallas said, to being held in a chicken-wing tackle) somehow held out.

Alix Stephenson, Robbie Storey and, shortly after Young had been red-carded, Aaron Levy had crossed for the Cougars, with Young adding a couple of goals.

Kilshaw said: “It was an opportunity missed, even though the team did well considering we lacked a number of players.

“Our captain, prop Steve Crossley, was ruled out through illness and although our very young side was led superbly by Knozzer (Michael Knowles) we certainly missed Steve’s experience. We could well have won a tight affair had he been available.

“But the defeat, painful as it was, will be a valuable experience for our young players in terms of how to win close games and, in particular, cutting out unforced errors.”

`Killer’ continued: “Our defence was, again, really good, as was our fitness. And, as our new-look team continues to gel and the weather gets better for training and matches, our attacking play will definitely improve. But unforced errors, especially in terms of fielding last-tackle kicks, put us under unnecessary pressure and we need to resolve those; when conditions are boggy and wet you need to play from being in front, not having to come back from behind, which is a good lesson for our young players. And Keighley’s try shortly after Young had been sent off was huge. Ultimately, however, we went toe-to-toe with a Championship side, which gives a good indication of where we are right now. If we play with the same intensity for the rest of the season, and continue our good work on technical and tactical aspects, we’ll do well in the league this year.”

Pictures Craig Irvine