HAD the game been played on a stats sheet, injury-hit York City Knights would have beaten big-guns Halifax yesterday.
Taking completion rates as an example, York’s first-half record of 16 from 18 sets followed by 14 from 19 in the second period would quite often be good enough to bring about victory, especially when compared to Fax’s 24 completions out of 36 sets over the 80 minutes.
However, the fact it didn’t on this occasion help to garner three Kingstone Press Championship points was because most of those sets in what proved to be a second-half stalemate were in their own territory and, more so, because of three big first-half blips in an otherwise highly creditable defensive effort.
The Knights had taken everyone by surprise to storm 14-0 up but, when Halifax finally got off the bus, they hit back with three first-half tries of their own, all of which were converted by Steve Tyrer for an 18-14 lead after 35 minutes which remained unchanged until the final hooter.
All three could have been averted, too, had the Knights’ defence remained as stoic as it was before and after that unlucky-for-some 13-minute salvo.
Still, many home fans at Huntington Stadium would have accepted a bonus losing point had it been offered beforehand, especially given the injuries in the ranks.
Halifax are not yet firing on all cyclinders – they began sloppily and made too many handling errors as befits champion wannabes – but they remain one of only two teams with 100 per cent winning records after four games, they are one of the division’s “top five”, and they have designs on the title.
Taking something from a game against a leading side is therefore a plus, perhaps a bonus in itself over the course of the season. But, like Knights boss Gary Thornton said, given the way the game unfolded, York could well have taken all the spoils.
Either way, the home supporters were certainly appreciative of the efforts Thornton’s underdogs made in defeat, both in the reception at the end and in post-match comments later on. The old “York and proud of it” chant even came back at one point.
The Knights certainly got off to a flier.
Barely 60 seconds had passed when Jack Briscoe sidestepped tackles following a scrum on half-way and had the pace to get home untouched.
That scrum came after Halifax’s Craig Ashall had booted the ball out on the full to begin an awful opening quarter for the hooker.
He was hardly alone making errors. Among them, Lee Paterson – back in the visitors’ team in place of winger Rob Worrincy – fumbled a kick and, although he just knocked the ball safe, from the attack that followed, Dean Hadley crashed over.
Hadley, fit again to take his place in the pack, was the game’s standout performer, and seemed to stand even taller after team-mate Sam Scott, hitherto York’s best forward this season, departed injured midway through the first half.
Prop Josh Bowden set the position for the next try with a storming run. He held on when he should have fed the supporting Jack Lee, but, with the chance seemingly gone, York regained possession after another Ashall mistake and the attack this time ended with Tom Carr succeeding where Lee had failed, in burrowing in from dummy-half.
Simon Brown – whose kicking game again excelled, barring two ultimately decisive missed touchline conversions against the wind – added the extras.
Halifax’s Rikki Sheriffe fluffed his lines on 19 minutes when Ross Divorty’s wonderful pat-back from a high kick put the try-line at his mercy only to fumble the touchdown under Joe Arundel’s tackle.
York’s defence then switched off, however, allowing Dane Manning to burst through from a Paul Handforth pass – half-back Handforth having taken on Ashall’s hooking role in what proved a match-winning spell.
That said, Handforth seemed to gift Jonny Presley a try when dropping a Brown kick at the other end. However, a touch judge ruled the try out having noticed a knock-on somewhere between Handforth’s fumble and Presley’s pick-up.
That decision became an even bigger turning point when Handforth threw a dummy from acting-half and strolled through, the defence having played fetch like a confused dog.
Five minutes later, as a hail shower began to fall in York’s faces, a smart move made the Knights pay for a dog-leg defensive line as Adam Robinson powered through.
York’s defence improved again, to great credit too, but the Knights were unable to make any of their few second-half sets in the danger zone tell.
Knights: Carr 7, Latus 7, Arundel 7, Briscoe 7, Dent 6, Brown 8, Presley 7, Bowden 8, Lee 8, Aldous 8, Scott 6, Smith 7, Hadley 9. Subs (all used): Brining 7, Haynes 6, Bell 6, Sullivan 6.
Tries: Briscoe 1; Hadley 10; Carr 15.
Conversions: Brown 15.
Halifax: Fieldhouse, Sheriffe, Heaton, Tyrer, Paterson, Handforth, Thackeray, Ambler, C Ashall, Bracek, Manning, Divorty, Murrell. Subs (all used): Tonks, K Ashall, Robinson, Casey.
Tries: Manning 22; Handforth 30; Robinson 35.
Conversion: Tyrer 22, 30, 35.
Man of the match: Dean Hadley – superb in the pack, both in a sterling defensive display which epitomised the team’s gutsy efforts, and with his ball handling in possession.
Referee: Ronnie Laughton (Barnsley) – no, he didn’t leave his whistle at home, he just didn’t use it much, letting the game flow to good effect.
Weather: parky, and with a first-half hail shower in York faces.
Moment of the match: Jack Briscoe, playing at centre, showed a neat sidestep and pace to score from a first-minute scrum.
Gaffe of the match: York were leading 14-6 and the next try was crucial. Jonny Presley’s for the Knights was ruled out, before Paul Handforth scored for Halifax from dummy-half – the defence inexplicably parting, like the Red Sea when Moses threw an outrageous dummy.
Gamebreaker: Second-row Sam Scott was helped off just after Halifax’s first try, and it’s debatable whether the visitors would have scored their other two had he been on the pitch.
Match rating: A mighty effort by the underdogs, but will they get a better chance to beat one of the division’s top five? They will certainly rue switching off thrice.