1998 Academy Grand Final – Hunslet Hawks 39 Cardiff Demons 30

CHRIS PARK reflects on events at South Leeds Stadium

IT was only after a tough and, at times, torrid Grand Final that the Hunslet Hawks were able to overcome the challenge of a towering Cardiff Demons, and receive the Second Division Championship Trophy from Academy Chairman Jim Hartley at the South Leeds Stadium on Sunday.

The Hawks scored half a dozen tries, and at one stage looked like coming home in a canter after setting off at pace, 28 points up at the interval without reply; before the Demons blasted their way back into the game in dramatic fashion to leave the Hawks hanging on desperately.

There was no sign of alarm early on, a Gareth Naylor penalty for offside opening the scoring before five minutes had elapsed. A couple of half chances went begging through faulty handling, then Jamie Thackray twice carved the Cardiff defence to the bone with his wide sidestep.

In between, stand-off Nicky Dobson dummied his way into a gap and sped off for the Hawks second try, Naylor landing two successful conversions. Even when the Demons best chance of the half arrived on the 20th minute, Hunslet loose forward David Jessey responded with a classic piece of cover defence to signal his return to action after a spell in the blood bin following a particularly careless piece of Cardiff defence.

Hunslet’s back row trio of Jessey, Kelvin Henderson and Jamie Thackray, who was awarded the Colin Hutton Plate as the Player of the Match, were always a threat, despite being up against far bigger opponents, and Hunslet looked set for a field day at this stage, centre Adam Moore going through from dummy half, winger Chris Haywood producing a splendid effort, suitably improved by Naylor as the half closed.

Cardiff had been rarely out of their own territory, conceding far too much possession and being heavily penalised for an awkward, occasionally over heavy-handed style, all of which compelled them to defend for long stretches in that first 40. Their response to what appeared a lost cause was to introduce substitute Nathan Hopkins at halfback, who immediately induced his huge forwards to run straight, and from deep. Almost immediately, it paid off, a crashing drive from Gareth Dean took out a couple of defenders almost on the line, for Damian Adams to pile-drive his way over and Hopkins to land an acutely angled improvement.

This reverse scarcely appeared to trouble Hunslet, who almost immediately responded with a try from centre Andy Turner, goaled by Gareth Naylor, who had a fine all-round game in addition to his seven accurate kicks at goal.

The frenetic start to the second half continued when classic passing from the base of the scrum presented Cardiff winger Stefan Sankala with the chance to dive in at the corner – Hopkins’ touchline conversion was a gem, and the Demons appeared to be growing more confident by the minute when Dean and Adams repeated their cameo opening to the second period – Dean with the subtle approach of a steam loco, and Adams with the drive through what remained of a bruised defence. Hopkins’ accurate conversion was academic.

Bruised or not, Hunslet raised their game sufficiently to send Thackray over, midway through the half, for the score which would have surely settled the game – only for the second-rower, who once scored nine tries in a single Academy game this season, to fail in his attempt to ground the ball correctly.

The tide looked to be flowing against Hunslet now, as even the loss of stand-off Andrew Merrett to the sin bin for persistent interference and Naylor’s resultant penalty goal failed to dampen the Demons enthusiasm.

Rumbling runs from Adams, Dean, Gethin Jenkins and substitute Robert Price all sounded alarm sirens in a rapidly tiring Hunslet defence, and it was no surprise when Hopkins went over as the final quarter loomed, adding the goal with his by now customary ease.

It was after the Hawks had worked the position from which fullback Steve Parnell landed a field goal, that the most dramatic score of the match occurred. The towering Adams got loose around halfway, and found little enough to trouble him in the way of cover defenders, en route to the right hand corner. It was a matter of some surprise that on this occasion, Hopkins attempted conversion got nowhere close – a matter of some relief to the home side when Naylor, with five minutes left, managed a far more simple penalty chance which opened up a nine-point gap. Even so, the final moments of the game were not without incident, the Demons launching a length of the field move which fell only to desperate cover defence just short of the Hunslet goal line, providing a memorable ending to the Second Division season.

GAMESTAR Colin Hutton Plate Winner, Jamie Thackray of Hunslet Hawks

GAMEBREAKER Gareth Naylor’s 75th minute penalty – not until then were Hunslet able to breathe any more easily, after Cardiff had almost totally dominated much of the second period and were threatening to pull off the recovery of the season

1 Stephen Parnell
2 Chris Haywood
3 Andy Turner
4 Adam Moore
5 Lee Hall
6 Nicky Dobson
7 Gareth Naylor
8 Matthew Butterfield
9 Ben Wykeman
10 Ben Skerrett
11 Kelvin Henderson
12 Jamie Thackray
13 David Jessey
14 Graham Thompson
15 Danny O’Connor
16 Chris Griffiths
17 Danny Dobson

Tries: Thackray (12, 25), N Dobson (14), Moore (30), Haywood (36), Turner (45)
Goals: Naylor 7
Field goal: Parnell

1 Craig Thomas
2 Stefan Sankala
3 Steven Morgan
4 Max Ryce
5 Jonathan Rimmer
6 Andrew Merrett
7 Neil Davies
8 Paul Davey
9 Darren Wilcox
10 Gethin Jenkins
11 Gareth Dean
12 Graham Hughes
13 Gareth Davies
14 Nathan Hopkins
15 Damian Adams
16 Robert Price
17 Lee Roberts

Tries: Adams (42, 51, 70), Sankala (49), Hopkins (59)
Goals: Hopkins 5

Penalty count: 20-8