A YOUNG Leeds Rhinos side had to dig deep before pipping Hunslet 21-14 in an entertaining pre-season clash.
The new Harry Jepson OBE Memorial Cup went to Headingley largely thanks to a brace of tries by winger Ash Handley, but Hunslet could be encouraged by the way they played.
They were deservedly level at the break and led soon afterwards. They created a host of chances, in an error-strewn game, but Leeds produced a strong defensive effort, surviving 30 successive tackles near their own line at one stage in the first half.
Prop Jordan Baldwinson and centre Jimmy Keinhorst were the pick for Leeds and Polish-born England academy forward Mikolaj Oledski rocked Hunslet with some big carries.
Danny Ansell caused Rhinos problems with his kicking game and recruits Ben Blakeston and Brett Whitehead both stood out for the hosts.
Leeds went ahead after just two minutes when Cory Aston touched down from fellow signing Jack Ormondroyd’s pass, Liam Sutcliffe – who captained Rhinos on the day – adding the extras.
Hunslet halves Ansell and Joe Sanderson each landed a 40-20 kick in the first half, play being re-started with a tap rather than scrum under the sport’s new rules.
Ansell’s kick established the field position for Marcus Webb to mark his first Hunslet appearance with a try, on 15 minutes, but Sanderson’s conversion attempt bounced away off the woodwork.
Leeds hit back through Handley’s first try, created by Keinhorst, but Hunslet carved out the better chances with Jake Normington and Jack Coventry being held up over the line and Jack Lee and Jimmy Watson going close.
They deservedly levelled on the final play of the half when Normington stormed over from Watson’s pass following a break by Whitehead.
Sanderson landed the goal from wide out to make it 10-10 at half-time and Hunslet were in front three minutes after the restart when Joel Gibson – son of former Great Britain and Leeds winger Carl Gibson – marked his first appearance with a well-taken solo try, which he could not convert.
Hunslet were on top at that stage, but a loose pass near Leeds’ line turned the game on its head, Handley intercepting to power away for a spectacular long-range touchdown.
Liam Sutcliffe’s goal edged Rhinos in front and they increased their advantage with 17 minutes left through Josh Walters’ unconverted try, from Keinhorst’s pass.
Alex Sutcliffe could have made the game safe, but was denied by Mvududu’s outstanding last-gasp tackle.
That set up a tense finale and Nyle Flynn and Jack Norfolk, both signed from Rhinos’ academy, were held up over the line as Hunslet pressed for an equalising score, before Jordan Lilley landed a stoppage-time drop goal to seal it for Leeds.
Leeds centre Nathan Waring left the ground on crutches after suffering an ankle injury and winger Harry Boyes (hamstring) also limped off.
Hunslet: Watson, Webb, Norfolk, Mvududu, Duffy, Sanderson, Ansell, Reed, Lee, Haley, Walton, Wilson, Normington. Subs Coventry, Carbutt, Flynn, Broughton, Blakeston, Gibson, Whitehead, Bell.
Leeds Rhinos: Chapman-Smith, Boyes, Keinhorst, Waring, Handley, L Sutcliffe, Aston, Baldwinson, Hallas, Ormondroyd, Walters, A Sutcliffe, Jordan-Roberts. Subs Oledski, Lilley, Whiteley, Barraclough, Sunderland, Schofield, Trout.
Referee: Paul Marklove (Warrington).