London Skolars 20, York City Knights 30
THREE points is what they went for and three points was what they got.
York City Knights strengthened their grip on top spot in Championship One with a 30-20 win at London Skolars while second-placed Oldham were not in action.
Their third consecutive long trip to the other end of the country reaped due reward, but, having gone 30-0 up, it was clear in the final half-hour that they are getting a bit peeved with all these journeys as they took their foot off the gas, turned the engine off and freewheeled until the hooter finally brought things a halt.
There’s one more such trip to go, to Oxford next Sunday, and, judging by the four tries conceded here, they will need to refuel before getting back on the bus.
Then comes a home match against play-off foes Oldham and then there’s trek back to Gloucestershire All Golds. This Championship One division isn’t as tough on the field as the Championship, but boy it’s hard on the legs.
Five tries in 24 minutes, including three in nine minutes either side of half-time, gave York their handsome lead, and allowed them to slip out of gear without much fear of crashing.
Two, notably, came from new boy Brad Day, the back-rower who made his debut on dual-reg from Castleford in time to play enough games – six – to be eligible for the play-offs.
He looked like a very good addition, too, all-action with and without the ball, despite having to play out of position at centre after Greg Minikin departed with a shoulder injury – one of several worrying new knocks.
The Knights showed four changes to the team that won at Hemel.
In addition to Day, veteran Lee Paterson made a welcome return after a six-week injury absence, prolific winger Ben Dent was fit and forward Colton Roche was available again.
James Morland, Ed Smith, Tyler Craig and Nathan Harper were omitted.
One expected change didn’t occur, though, as skipper Jack Lee was passed fit to play, albeit with lots of strapping.
The hooker was clearly not his usual self, often flexing his troublesome knee and making uncharacteristic errors, but he still gave York the lead midway through the first half – his 15th try in 12 games showing his value to the team even when half-fit.
It came after some superb play by Dent and Minikin, and quick-witted ball retention.
The first half remained to and fro, with York having a lucky escape as Courtney Davies had a try ruled out for a forward pass, just moments before Ben Reynolds broke upfield to set up their second try.
A quick play-the-ball saw Pat Smith scamper away, grubber kick the ball forward, smartly regather and bounce over the line Surprise strugglers Skolars had made three alterations to the 17 that were hammered 66-6 here by Gateshead last week, with ex-York winger Dennis Tuffour among those omitted.
Judd Greenhalgh, a scorer in the reverse fixture, Dion Chapman and James Duckworth – a second dual-reg player from London Broncos along with Mike Bishay – were back in.
Bishay’s half-back partner, Danny Yates, had booted an early 40-20 to give his side excellent early territory, but a big hit by Minikin on Tely Pelo caused the prop to fumble the ball. However, it also caused young centre Minikin to feel his shoulder and another hard tackle later in the half put paid to his day.
It nevertheless brought Day into proceedings early – and the teenager, in the 17 to give second-row regular Ed Smith a deserved week off as he battled a suspected hernia, scored with his second touch.
A mistake by London’s little Aussie hooker, Martyn Smith, led to a scrum in home territory, James Haynes made a superb break and got the ball out of a Lamont Bryan tackle for Day to touch down.
Lee’s replacement hooker, Kriss Brining, made two notable tackles before half-time. One ended in Smith landing dangerously on his head; the other was a superb try-saver on Bishay.
Brining was into attacking action straight after the interval with a superb break from his own half which was carried on in similarly fine fashion by Ryan Backhouse, Haynes and Roche, the latter crashing over.
Within three minutes, Day sped over for his second try after a swift passing move. He also denied Anthony Cox at the other end, another highlight of a fine senior debut.
At 30-0 after 50 minutes, an awful error by James Saltonstall offered the Skolars a way back into the game - his mistake in-goal handing Duckworth an easy finish.
James Ford had a try disallowed as a touch judge inexplicably deemed him offside when he picked off a poor Bishay pass 30 metres out. Following the penalty, Greenhalgh finished superbly to cut the gap further, Davies converting.
The last quarter was relatively non-descript as the Knights surrendered dominance, Skolars deserving credit for finishing with a flourish - and a bonus point - thanks to two tries in the last two minutes, ex-Featherstone centre Mufaro Mvududu scoring one then superbly running clear to set up the other for Yates, Davies adding one goal.
Skolars: Paxton, Davies, Greenhalgh, Mvududu, Duckworth, Yates, Bishay, Sykes, Druce, Pelo, Cox, Bryan, Williams. Subs (all used): Robinson, M Smith, MacDonald, Chapman.
Tries: Duckworth 50; Greenhalgh 59; Mvududu 78; Yates 80.
Conversions: Davies 59, 78.
Sent off: none.
Knights: Haynes 7, B Dent 7, Ford 6, Minikin 6, Saltonstall 5, P Smith 7, Reynolds 6, Brennan 6, Lee 6, Aldous 6, Mallinder 7, Backhouse 6, Pickets 6. Subs (all used): Brining 6, Roche 6, Paterson 6, Day 8.
Tries: Lee 20; P Smith 28; Day 35, 44; Roche 41.
Conversions: Reynolds 20, 28, 35, 41, 44.
Sent off: none.
Man of the match: Brad Day – two tries, one try-saving tackle and plenty of energy and punch out wide after entering the fray at centre and enjoying an excellent debut.
Referee: Mike Woodhead (St Helens) – not the worst we’ve seen.
Moment of the match: Colton Roche’s try will surely make the end-of-season video highlights. Kriss Brining started it with a break from his own half and fine pass to Ryan Backhouse, who took it on and found James Haynes who in turn gave Roche the chance to crash over.
Gaffe of the match: James Saltonstall could have dropped on the ball after it was kicked into his in-goal area, or he could have booted it out of the ground, but he fumbled it to ground to hand James Duckworth an easy try – and the Skolars a way back into the game.
Gamebreaker: The two fine tries in the first four minutes of the second half made the game pretty safe at 30-0 – though they proved important in the end as York tailed off and allowed the Skolars to come back.
Match rating: A win is a win is a win. One of those games where points are more important than performance.
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