SOMETIMES you have to take a step backwards to go forward.
Two years ago Liam Hood was being touted as an outstanding prospect after scoring three tries in five appearances for Leeds Rhinos in his first season in the senior team.
But the young hooker did not play in Super League last term and was released less than two seasons into a four-year contract.
Hood dropped down two levels, to Kingstone Press Championship One club Hunslet Hawks, to rebuild his career and the move has worked out for both parties.
The 22-year-old’s performances have caught the eye of Super League’s big-spenders Salford Red Devils, who have signed him on a two-year arrangement, to begin next season.
And his final appearance for Hunslet will be in Sunday’s Grand Final against Oldham, after his two tries helped Hawks overturn a 12-0 interval deficit at league leaders York City Knights yesterday.
“Liam has got fantastic ability,” said Hunslet coach Barry Eaton. “Put him in a situation where he can make a decision or score a vital try for you and he is going to do that.”
Hood was the main difference between two evenly-matched teams in a thrilling final eliminator which brought the curtain down on 25 years of rugby league at York’s Huntington Stadium.
The Knights will share with York City at Bootham Crescent next season before moving into a new community stadium in 2016 and it looked for an hour as if they would go out with a win.
Despite having most of the play, it took Hunslet, beaten three times by York in the regular season, until mid-way through the second half to break their duck, but that proved to be the first of six touchdowns as they ran out 32-24 winners.
“I was delighted with the players’ mentality,” Eaton added. “Credit to York, their scrambling defence in the first half was outstanding and the try they got right on half-time could potentially have been a killer.
“But we had a bit more composure in the second half, they started missing some tackles and we got over the line.”
York wing Ben Dent made two try-saving tackles on Lee Brickwood and had a touchdown ruled out because of a forward pass before opening the scoring when he intercepted Aaron Lyons’s pass at the end of the first quarter.
And York seemed to have landed a knockout blow on the final play of the first half as Josh Tonks sucked in the defence and offloaded to an unmarked Pat Smith, whose try – along with Ben Reynolds’s second conversion – gave the home team a healthy two-score cushion at the interval.
But having played a near-faultless game in the opening period, York suddenly became unable to complete a set and a succession of fumbles deep in their own territory gave Hunslet a wealth of possession.
The pressure finally told when Jimmy Watson, their impressive young full-back, touched down wide out.
Veteran David March’s conversion attempt hit the crossbar and bounced away, but Hunslet struck again almost immediately when Hood nipped over from acting-half.
March’s kick – the first of his four goals – cut the deficit to two points. But Hunslet lost possession from the restart and immediately conceded a penalty, from which Jack Lee, who will join Hawks next season, scored what seemed like being a decisive try, improved by Reynolds.
But Danny Maun – a Championship Grand Finalist last year with Batley Bulldogs – revived Hunslet spirits when he charged down Reynolds’s kick to go in for the visitors’ third try and Hood then crossed for his second, in identical fashion to his earlier score.
That edged Hunslet in front and they moved further ahead through a close-range try by Gavin Duffy, who then made a stunning tackle to keep Greg Minikin out, but was sin-binned for holding on.
Ryan Backhouse went over from the resulting penalty and Reynolds drop-kicked the conversion, but York could not hold on to the ball from the restart and James Duckworth touched down from Watson’s offload on the final play of the game, March not bothering to take the conversion attempt.
Defeat at the penultimate hurdle was a bitter pill for York, who finished five points clear of second-placed Hunslet in the league table. Coach Gary Thornton, whose future at the club is now uncertain, reflected: “It is devastating, I am really, really disappointed.
“That’s what you get with a young squad, with an average age of 22.
“Sometimes you just fall short in big games and that’s what’s happened.
“Right at the end when we needed to come good we have struggled a bit. We needed a bit more experience out there.”
York City Knights: Haynes, Saltonstall, Craig, Minikin, Dent, P Smith, Reynolds, Roche, Lee, Aldous, Tonks, E Smith, Paterson. Substitutes: Brining, Bell, Backhouse, Brennan.
Hunslet Hawks: Watson, Duckworth, Brickwood, Maun, Duffy, T Coyle, Ansell, Houston, March, Moore, Lyons, Oakes, Mackay. Substitutes: Hood, Briscoe, Haley, Reed.
Referee: G Stokes (Wigan).