THE 42-4 scoreline at Mount Pleasant rightly suggests Batley were full value for their victory, but it does not do justice to York City Knights’ efforts and travails in defeat.
A quick glance at the penalty count – 14-5 in favour of the Bulldogs – tells a bit more of the story, as the Knights not only battled against one the best sides in the Kingstone Press Championship on their notorious sloping home pitch, but also St Helens referee George Stokes, who, aside from the penalties, only gave York any of the 50-50 calls once the game was dead and buried.
Three of his key decisions came within minutes of each other, too, effectively turning the match prior to half-time.
He firstly sin-binned Knights stand-off Simon Brown for dissent, and then ruled out a Jonny Presley try when deeming Tom Carr’s pass was forward. Presley and Carr, and the decent contingent of Knights fans, couldn’t believe it.
As luck would have it, Batley went up the other end to score through Tom Hemingway, Stokes missing a forward pass in the build-up.
Seconds later, a try on the half-time hooter left York 18-4 down at the interval when really they should have been 10-6 up. They were yet to play up the Mount Pleasant slope, too.
A quick look at the bodies piled up on the treatment table at the end of the game tells another part of the story.
Matt Nicholson, York’s main go-forward prop, hooker Jack Lee and half-back Danny Nicklas all had busted shoulders, and young prop Austin Bell couldn’t walk properly due to an injured hip. Jack Latus also sprained an ankle but kept on playing.
On top of that, Batley gave a commanding display, all of which meant the Knights have still to take a single point from eight visits to Mount Pleasant.
It wasn’t the result boss Gary Thornton, a Bulldogs player for nine years and head coach for five, had wanted on his first return there as a visiting boss. But at least he and his players could leave with heads up.
A key factor in Batley’s dominance was the back three of full-back Miles Greenwood and wingers Johnny Campbell and Greg Johnson, who returned the ball with interest every time they collected it, taking numerous attempted tackles to halt them.
York were served immediate notice of that threat in the opening seconds, that first attack ending with a try, after exactly one minute of play, from dummy-half by hooker George Flanagan.
The initial foray had only been halted by a desperate cover tackle from Ben Dent – back in the team in place of Tom Lineham, who had been recalled by parent club Hull, and back on the ground where his debut season in the Knights’ first-team frame had been curtailed last August when stretchered off in a neck brace.
On that occasion, the Knights – Dent being part of a novice line-up – had conceded a half-century of points for the second successive time at Mount Pleasant, without getting on the scoresheet, and there were immediate fears of a repeat.
However, York struck back through Joe Arundel after good work from Carr, and Dent’s bravery in running out on this ground despite those recent memories here was matched by the defensive effort of his team-mates.
Batley remained the better side, but scrambling defence kept them out several times, pretty much with every Knights player contributing.
The obvious worry was that the hosts were playing up the hill and were bound to kick on down it in the second half.
They were also being aided – as if they needed it – by a ridiculous penalty count which at one point stood at 8-1.
That disallowed try by Presley was against the run of play but would at least have given the Knights a lead to defend. As it was, Hemingway’s try – added to his 100 per cent record with the boot – and a killer on the hooter by Campbell put the Bulldogs in command at 18-4.
On the resumption, Greenwood had a try ruled out for offside but smart angled kicks from Hemingway and Black duly brought touchdowns for Alex Bretherton and that man Greenwood.
The pacy full-back had been pinpointed as ‘one to watch’ in The Press’ match preview and he was certainly worth watching, capping his display with a second try soon after, albeit on the back of two more dubious penalties.
York’s frustrations were summed up when Sam Scott stole the ball one-on-one but, with team-mates then joining the tackle, Stokes deemed it had been taken illegally. Scott, again immense in the Knights’ pack, was about to score but the whistle prompted him to boot the ball out of the ground. Surprisingly, Stokes did not caution him.
Flanagan duly rubbed further salt into injury-hit York’s wounds with a second try from dummy-half before seeing a hat-trick score ruled out for offside.
Batley: Greenwood, Campbell, Walton, Bretherton, Johnson, Black, Hemingway, B Smith, Flanagan, Rowe, Applegarth, Davies, Lindsay. Subs (all used): Mennell, Hirst, Fleming, A Scott.
Tries: Flanagan 1, 75; Hemingway 38; Campbell 40; Bretherton 47; Greenwood 62, 66.
Conversions: Hemingway 1, 38, 40, 47, 62, 66, 75.
Knights: Carr 7, B Dent 6, Arundel 6, Latus 6, Briscoe 7, Brown 6, Nicklas 6, Nicholson 6, Lee 6, Aldous 7, S Scott 8, E Smith 7, Golden 8. Subs (all used): Lyons 6, Presley 6, Bell 6, Sullivan 7.
Tries: Arundel 7.
Sin-binned: Brown 33.
Man of the match: Sam Scott – yet again the second-row gave his all, contributing consistently good stuff in attack and defence.
Referee: George Stokes (St Helens) – the kind of officiating that makes it difficult for fans to abide by the oft-heard Tannoy announcement to not use unpleasant language.
Weather: sunny and fresh.
Moment of the match: York’s frustrations were summed up when Sam Scott, certain to score after a one-on-one ball steal, was hauled back by the ref, and promptly booted the ball out of the ground in anger.
Gaffe of the match: when you’re facing a referee in this kind of mood, try not to get frustrated at him, Simon Brown, because back-chat is bound to bring a sin-bin.
Gamebreaker: the two tries in the last few minutes of the first half while York were down to 12 men put paid to the Knights’ hopes, especially as they had to climb the Mount (un)Pleasant hill in the second half.
Match rating: Batley were full value for victory, but York fans were appreciative of the Knights’ efforts.