JAMES FORD was a satisfied man despite seeing his York City Knights Under-20s side lose 28-18 to Salford in their opening U20s Championship encounter.
The City Reds were allowed into this league, primarily for Championship clubs, because of the uncertainty surrounding their Super League future over the winter.
They are duly considered title contenders but York’s youngsters held their own for much of the contest.
Knights U20s coach Ford said: “I was very proud of the lads’ efforts. They’re a young bunch but they demonstrated they’ve got a heck of a lot of ability and desire.
”Salford U20s only narrowly lost to Oldham’s first team a couple of weeks ago and comfortably beat Leigh, and we competed for large periods of the game in many areas. There are some areas we need to improve but overall I was pretty happy.
“When we went two or three scores behind we asked them to play a bit more expansively and they did. The skill level was good and they really challenged a talented Salford team.”
York took an early lead after Salford full-back Jack Holmes – one of four full-time players in the visiting side – spilled a bomb from James Morland, and Luke Tomlinson scooped up the loose ball for Tyler Craig to cross.
However, Salford upped the pace as expected and centre Edwin Okanga-Ajawang flew down the right to equalise, before, after two quick passes from a penalty, Matty Gee powered in.
Then young Frenchman Theo Fages – the scrum-half who apparently stopped breathing after a massive late hit in the Reds’ Super League clash with Catalans in early February, which earned Julian Bousquet a four-match ban – showed why he had been getting rave reviews over in Manchester prior to his concussion injury, when fielding a kick 20 metres from his own line and sprinting home with York’s pacemen hot in pursuit.
Holmes converted all three Salford tries for an 18-6 half-time lead.
If Salford had been the better team in the first half, the Knights shaded the second, despite losing prop Jake Joynt to injury.
Gee got his second converted try on the hour mark, but Ben Dent hit back for York with a solo effort, younger brother Adam adding his second conversion.
York’s back three spilled too many kicks during the game and, after second-row Aaron Lyons marred a decent display by doing likewise, Salford hooker Gareth Owen, one of three in the Reds team who have turned out in Super League, meted out the punishment.
But the Knights, with prop Tim Stubbs impressing in the final quarter, deservedly had the last word as a Morland chip – the stand-off kicked well all night – was expertly taken by Greg Minikin for a fine finish. Dent the younger goaled.