It wouldn’t be a Challenge Cup final weekend without the now traditional Friday Night Lights encounter at London Skolars, this season the opposition being Betfred League One fourth placed side Hunslet.
The 4G pitch at the New River Stadium in Wood Green, a ten mile drive around the North Circular, always attracts a good following of diehard Rugby League supporters down in the nationals capital to make a weekend of it.
But two important league points were up for grabs as Hunslet looked to cement their play-off spot while a loss would spell the end of the Skolars chase for the play-offs and the second promotion spot for another season.
It was good early pressure from the visitors despite their late arrival which delayed kick-off by thirty minutes. Just before ten minutes Vila Halafihi opened the scoring with a dart from dummy half which allowed him to push away the London tacklers to get the ball to ground. Joe Sanderson added a simple conversion from under the sticks for a deserved 6-0 lead.
On thirteen Liam Scott took a miss-out pass to go through a big hole in the Hunslet defence to go over by the left upright. Neil Thorman added the conversion to level the scores.
Hunslet full-back Jimmy Watson knocked-on while trying to field to kick-off. The Skolars took their chance with Jerome Yates going over in the corner on the overlap for a simple try. This time Thorman was unable to add the touchline conversion but it had been a terrific fightback for a 10-6 lead.
It was three on the bounce for the home side when Jermaine Coleman put in a neat little kick which was collected and caught by Jordan Williams. The Thorman kick was good for a 16-6 lead. After a blistering start from the visitors they were now being totally outplayed.
London kicked a penalty through Thorman on twenty-five after interference at the play the ball.
From the kick-off Hunslet replied directly with Tom Ashton stepping twice through a fractured Skolars defence to go fifteen metres to score. Sanderson drilled his conversion between the uprights for 12-18. A hugh sigh of relief for the visitors.
On thirty-two the touch judge entered the field of play and after discussion with the referee Ryan Wright and Judd Greenhalgh were both shown yellow cards for an off the ball incident.
Just before the interval Hunslet were back level thanks to a great Mike Emmitt offload to Adam Robinson for the prop to sail over by the right upright. Sanderson added the conversion for 18-18, the sides locked up as they headed for the sheds.
First blood in the second half was drawn by Hunslet when Jimmy Watson was at first receiver to benefit from a last ditch offload and go ver by the sticks. Sanderson added the conversion and just as they had in the first half, Hunslet started the second like a house on fire.
In tit-for-tat scoring Williams took a Thorman floated ball to go in at the corner for his second of the night. Thorman was unable to kick the from the touchline, the Skolars trailing by two points.
On fifty-eight the Skolars were back in front thanks to a great break from Iliess Macani and after a quick play the ball the ball found its way to Richard Wilkinson to go over in the corner. Mike Bishay added the goal and the home side had a 28-24 lead.
Receiving a penalty on sixty-three for taking the player in the air, the Skolars elected to kick and Bishay added the penalty goal to push the lead to six points.
On seventy-two Callum Lancaster outjumped the London defence to take a Simon Brown kick and get the ball on the ground. Lewis Heckford added the conversion from wide to level the scores at 30-30, a nail biting last six minutes were on the cards.
Wilkinson attempted a drop goal for London on seventy-seven but the ball went left of the uprights. With seconds left a Bishay attempted drop goal was charged down and second later Wilkinson also failed with a kick. The ball went to Lancaster who almost went the length of the field before being tackled short. At the next play the ball was moved quickly to the right wing where Gareth Potts went over in the corner to seal the win on the hooter. Brown was unable to add the conversion but the visitors had sealed a sensational last gasp 34-30 win.
This was a tremendous game to open the Challenge Cup weekend between two evenly matched sides who served up eighty minutes of pure entertainment. There were plenty of mistakes and some of it wasn’t pretty but two industrious sides shared eleven tries and in the end a charged down attempted drop goal won the game for an exhausted Hunslet.
Skolars: Macani, Jennings, Caro, Williams (2T), Yates (T), Wilkinson (T), Coleman, Greenhalgh J (SB on 32), Thorman (3G), Scott (T), Bryan, Tuliatu, Ross. Subs: Davies, Magrin, Greenhalgh M, Bishay (2G).
Hunslet: Watson (T), Potts (T), Chapman-Smith, Ashton (T), Lancaster (T), Sanderson (4G), Brown (G), Braham, Halafihi (T), Robinson (T), Martin, Straughier, Hawksworth. Subs: Wright (SB on 32), Emmett, Haley, Heckford.
Referee: Matt Rossleigh.