Nottingham Outlaws came within two minutes of breaking their long losing sequence on Saturday when they suffered an agonising 34-30 defeat at North Hull Knights on Saturday. Yet again the Outlaws showed further improvements in their performance, never being behind in a see-saw game until a try by the home side at the death saw the points slip from their grasp.
The Outlaws coaching staff had the luxury of naming a relatively settled side for the journey north, indeed the only changes in the squad that battled well at Batley were at number nine where Chris Prime came in to replace Ben Scott-Nelson and on the wing where Jimmy Goodwin came into the side to replace James Young.
The Outlaws showed good defensive shape in the opening exchanges and more than held their own against the eager home team. However they failed to capitalise on their good defensive work by dropping the ball repeatedly when good positions beckoned and after twenty minutes of play the score board remained unchanged despite most of the play being in the Hull half.
Despite not taking advantage the Outlaws continued to keep a firm grip on proceedings and they finally got their rewards when Adam Cunliffe turned defence into attack, intercepting a North Hull attack and racing eighty metres up the field for a stunning opening score. Dan Wilson added the extras to put the Outlaws ahead 6-0 with twenty one minutes on the clock.
The home side immediately hit back back but with good defensive work the Outlaws seemed to have weathered the storm holding out on back to back sets but some good hands by the home side saw Liam Frenneaux go over in the corner to level the scores at 6-6.
The Outlaws hit back almost immediately, some good work by Dale and Strachan took the Outlaws onto the edge of the home twenty and Cunliffe doubled his tally with a superb show and go, scything through the home defence to nudge the Outlaws 12-6 ahead. However, not for the first time this season the Outlaws immendiately surrendered the advantage by dropping the ball on the restart set, trying one pass too many in their own twenty and paying the price as Jack Tottle scooted over as North Hull levelled again at 12-12.
It looked like the sides were destined to go into the break on level pegging but on the last play of the forty Adam Cunliffe completed a stunning first half hat trick with a carbon copy score of his first, dummying to pass before cutting through the North Hull defence to score. Dan Wilson just failed to add the extras but at 16-12 the Outlaws went into the break with a slender lead when in all honesty they should have been further ahead.
The coaching staff used the half time break to refresh the pack with big Joe Barton and Stewart Readhead coming on to beef up the front row.
It was important that the Outlaws made a good start to the second stanza and they did just that, containing the early North Hull threat and then going back on the offensive with attacks of their own. They were almost immediately rewarded when Sam Campbell latched onto an inside ball and whilst there appeared to be little on, he powered over the line despite the attention of three defenders to score a superb solo effort.
At 20-12 the Nottingham faithful were hoping that the Outlaws would build on their lead and pull away from their hosts. However the teams lack of confidence was once again evident as they put themselves under needless pressure, dropping the ball on the second tackle after the restart yet again and yet again they were made to pay the price as Callum Bell scooted over from acting half on the last tackle with the Outlaws defence switching off, expecting the pass. The conversion was successful and the Outlaws lead was pared back to two points at 18-20.
Despite the setback it was the Outlaws that appeared to be holding the upper hand and they scored arguably the best try of the game. The attack started with the ball passing through four pairs of hands before young Harry Walton caught it on the wing. There was still plenty to do but the youngster finished off superbly, diving full length into the corner to extend the Outlaws lead to 18-24.
Despite the score the Outlaws managed to invite the home side back into the game with a schoolboy error, failing to pick up the ball at their own play the ball and handing possession to the home side. From the resultant set Jamie Hutchinson went over for the home side and once again it was all to play for with the Outlaws just in front at 22-24.
With twenty minutes to play the Outlaws appeared to have made a vital breakthrough, putting themselves two scores ahead yet again when Joe Barton powered his way over, taking route one down the middle and trampling through the home pack for a great solo effort to make it 30-22 to the Outlaws. However, lack of composure saw the Outlaws give away a soft penalty for lifting in the tackle and back to back sets saw the home attack launch a series of raids that culminated in a try for Jamie Hutchinson and the lead was trimmed back to 28-30.
With five minutes to play the game became a frantic affair with North Hull throwing the proverbial kitchen sink at the Outlaws who appeared to have held out but they knocked the ball forward on the last defensive play and from the resultant scrum they failed to number up and Sam Beardshaw went over for a home try, nudging the Knights 34-30 ahead, the first time that the home side had been in front for the whole match.
In a final flurry the Outlaws launched one last raid and a raking kick by Adam Cunliffe caused panic in the home defence but the ball bounced agonisingly out of play with it the match.
After the game the players gathered to hear the man of the match award. There were a few players in with a chance, Cunliffe was there or thereabouts with a well taken hat trick as was Harry Walton who scored a fantastic solo effort. However the bubbly deservedly went to Elliot Wetham for eighty minutes of non stop action on attack and defence.
The Outlaws next chance for a win is their home game against high flying Beverley next Saturday. The Outlaws have already lost against the East Yorkshire outfit but the fixture has been re-jigged and the two sides meet again at Highfields next weekend.