Gateshead Thunder’s hopes of holding on to a promotion play-off place took a dent as they fell to Championship One challengers Hunslet Hawks.
The evening downpour might have accounted for Durham’s scheduled T20 cricket clash, but there were no such issues for the rugby league battlers as both sides coped with a wet ball and slippery conditions underfoot.
Newcastle Falcons’ director of rugby Dean Richards was among those watching on following Thunder’s takeover by their rugby union neighbours, but they trailed on seven minutes when quick hands down the left saw Danny Maun burst through a hole for a try, converted by Andrew Ballard.
Given the downpour both sides made a decent fist of handling, Gateshead held up over the Hunslet line as new signing Jordan Meads’ jinking running took them to within striking distance. Chances became few and far between for the home side as Hunslet’s superior kicking game saw them winning the battle for territory, but sloppy finishing and fine scramble defence from Stanley Gene’s side kept them in with a sniff.
Or at least it did until five minutes before half-time, when impatient attack within five metres of the Hawks’ line saw one offload too many fall into Hunslet hands, Liam Hood racing the length of the field for an interception score.
It was worse from the kick-off when another long-range set paved the way for replacement Luke Stanchion to slide between the posts for a quickfire third, Ballard’s conversion putting Thunder 18-0 down at half-time.
Gateshead were lucky to avoid slipping further behind almost immediately after the resumption when a high ball was allowed to bounce in the shadow of their own line, Hunslet knocking on in the act of scoring as Thunder were let off the hook.
However, their reprieve was only a temporary one as a penetrating run from Ballard put him in for a score down the left, converting his own touch-down as the tally passed the 20 mark. As doggedly as Gateshead plugged away there was never any real sense Hunslet were going to relax their grip on proceedings, tidily completing their sets and pegging Thunder back well inside their own half.
It was basic but effective in difficult conditions, Meads an increasingly peripheral figure as he was forced to make do with back-foot ball for the most part. Not that his side had thrown in the towel – Meads the man to wriggle over in the left corner and converting his own try as home pressure finally began to tell.
It at least got a decent Friday night crowd off their feet. Ballard’s 70th- minute penalty served the dual purposes of running down the clock and adding another two to Hunslet’s score and they did not have to wait long to stretch their lead even further.
Jimmy Watson was the man to do it as his scampering run saw him sliding over the whitewash, Ballard’s conversion effectively ending the contest. Liam Mackay stretched out an arm for the Hawks’ sixth try of the night, Michael Haley sliding in at the right corner for what turned out to be final touch-down on a disappointing evening for Gateshead.