John Mooney: The 2018 NCL Grand Final
West Hull v Hunslet Club Parkside
Despite a sterling second-half effort, when they looked the more likely winners at one stage, West Hull ultimately failed to cope with the powerful Hunslet Club Parkside forwards in the NCL Premier Division Final, eventually going down 26-18.
The Leeds-based club went into the Final on a winning streak of 39, the last 23 in this season's top division campaign, and it isn't difficult to see why. With huge forwards and speedy backs, they are superbly organised in defence and when put under pressure are able to respond with interest.
Wests started the game, in front of a large crowd at Featherstone Rovers ground, in good shape but though they had the majority of the early play they couldn't find a way through Parkside's resolute defence though they did manage an early lead when Jamie Fields was penalised for a high tackle in front of the posts and Ryan Wilson 'took the two'. A clever Scott Partis kick just evaded winger Luke Moss with the try-line open and the pressure was relieved.
That spurred Parkside on and they pressed hard for the first four-pointer though there looked nothing on when the giant Fields attempted to barge his way over from close range. However, with four would-be defenders seemingly holding him up over the line, he somehow managed to ground the ball over the whitewash for something of a 'soft' score, which he converted himself.
A spell of massive pressure saw Wests defend heroically and it was a relief when the opposition could only come away with a penalty for a ball steal. A superb Louis Crowther break came to nothing and that looked to be it for the first period before Hunslet produced an almost carbon copy of the first score and with Danny Rowse converting a half-time deficit of 14-2 looked virtually insurmountable.
Whatever Mark Hewitt said to his men in the changing room had a dramatic effect as Wests started the period like a house on fire. Playing smart, fast rugby they began to dominate their much bigger opponents and it was no surprise when a slick passing movement saw leading scorer Josh Nicklin go in at the corner. Partis just missed the conversion attempt then Parkside hit back with several block-busting attempts at the Green and Gold's line, all repelled with some superb last-gasp defending. That reaped its reward when a Partis break gained an excellent field position and Scott Spaven's pin-point kick was palmed back by Luke Moss to the ever alert Jack Watts, who went in close enough for Ryan Wilson to add the extras.
At just 14-12down, Wests were in the ascendancy and looked the more likely winners but Parkside are not champions without good reason and second-row forward Ben Shulver, who had been causing havoc with his barnstorming runs, found a gap after being put in by the excellent Andy Hullock. Rowse surprisingly missed with the conversion attempt but was on hand to add the extras after a smart little grubber-kick put winger Connor Squires over and then land a penalty after a high tackle in front of the posts was penalised.
That was game over with just a few minutes left but Wests were not rolling over and ended the match with a try from Watts, converted by Partis.
Parkside are deserved champions and were strong in every department from the excellent full-back Craig McShane onwards but it was a magnificent effort from West Hull to reach the Final after an indifferent start to the League campaign and they can take heart that they outscored their illustrious opponents in a pulsating second period.
Written by John Mooney