Get in touch: send your photos, videos, news & views by texting YORK to 80360 or send an email»
York City Knights’ 2013 season review
IT is probably ironic that York City Knights ended up being relegated after by far their most competitive season in the Kingstone Press Championship.
In the end they won only six of their 26 league games – but that equals the number of victories in the previous two Championship campaigns put together, and includes not only their biggest win at this level since seeing off a decrepit Oldham side in 2006 but also probably the club’s most notable league win since re-forming.
The fact their victory roll could/should/would have been more but for a cruel amount of late agony gives further evidence that in another year, one where Lady Luck smiled down on them, they would have avoided the drop, probably quite comfortably.
That they didn’t boils down to two things: 1, an inability to hold on to winning positions, be that by a bad bounce of the ball, dubious refereeing or player fallibility; 2, an inability to win on the road.
Oh, and the fact they couldn’t be saved by default this time after two successive escapes.
A quick look at the match reports this season shows they lost by four points or fewer seven times.
On three of those occasions they snatched defeat from the jaws of victory right at the death – once just before the hooter, at Dewsbury, and twice after it, both against Barrow.
On another occasion, at big-spending Halifax, they should have equalised in the dying minutes but Tom Carr’s goal attempt was controversially called wide.
Those games alone equate to seven points – the difference between relegation and safety.
Then there was the game at Hunslet when ex-Knight James Houston crossed in the last minute to deny the Knights a bonus point. Not forgetting the Whitehaven game at home when ex-boss Dave Woods’ side likewise stole away their bonus point as the clock ticked down.
There were plenty of other times in which leads had been forged only to be frittered away.
So why didn’t they turn winning positions into wins?
Was fitness a factor? Not sure.
Was it down to confidence? Well, had one of those narrow defeats turned into a victory, the team could have gone into other games assured they knew how to churn out tense victories.
Instead, they were left mentally brittle and bruised, and this state of mind without doubt played a part in the run-in, which saw Gary Thornton’s men lose 11 games on the trot – their play switching from scintillating to spluttering at the flick of an imaginary switch.
In the penultimate game at Doncaster, for example, when they needed to win to keep hopes alive, they were leading 14-0 and 20-12 only to fall away dramatically.
Even on the last day of the season – when they were already doomed to the drop and had nothing to play for – they were beating play-off contenders Batley until capitulating in the last 17 minutes, albeit after some dubious officiating which led to Joe Pickets and Sam Scott being sent off late on and referee George Stokes being escorted from the field by a security guard.
You don’t often see that in a dead rubber, but it all rather summed up the Knights’ season.
So was it controversial and costly refereeing that prevented Thornton’s men from turning leads into wins? Well, it probably played some part.
Both last-ditch losses to relegation rivals Barrow came courtesy of refereeing calls.
At Craven Park, the officials missed a knock-on in the build-up to the winning try which came in the final play after the hooter had sounded. At Huntington Stadium, Barrow were handed a penalty with which to kick the winning points, again after the hooter had sounded.
That home game, a televised relegation six-pointer, also saw the Knights have three tries ruled out by the video ref, at least one of which was very controversial, while Barrow had a more dubious effort awarded.
Then there was the aforementioned two-point loss at Halifax, a game which saw the rare spectacle of touch judges disagreeing over whether a goal had been good – not once but twice.
The referee – a certain Mr Stokes – had the casting vote, and he deemed Carr’s effort had gone wide, having earlier pronounced Fax’s effort good.
As an aside, the Knights were shown only five cards all season – two yellow (both for Simon Brown) and three red (Pickets and Scott against Batley, and Jack Aldous after a mêlée in the penultimate game at Doncaster). Stokes dished out four of them.
The only occasions the Knights won games at the death both came in the Challenge Cup – victories of wildly contrasting acclaim.
The second was a notable 30-28 win over Toulouse, when Mark Kheirallah missed a conversion attempt for the French big-guns which would have drawn his side level at the end of a ding-dong tie.
The first had come in the previous round, when Carr spared the Knights’ blushes with a try and conversion on the hooter to edge amateurs Blackbrook 26-24 at St Helens’ Langtree Park. Humiliation – Championship clubs simply do not lose to amateurs – was just about avoided but the near embarrassment was further evidence that the Knights still do not travel well.
They duly went through the rest of the season without an away win, making it 26 months since their last league win on the road and 19 since their last away to pro opposition, that coming in the Northern Rail Cup at Doncaster.
That awful run should have ended at some point this year but didn’t and, while one silver lining of relegation is that they must surely win away from home next term, such victories will have to come far, far away from home, given the long journeys on the road to far-flung clubs in Championship One.
The Knights did take a few bonus points on the road this term but only once did they nick one at the death, and it came in the very first match of the season away to Whitehaven – courtesy of two tries in the last two minutes by Tom Lineham.
The young winger was back at his home-town club on dual-registration from Hull but just one match later had done enough to prove his Super League worth and thereafter made speedy strides in the Airlie Birds’ first team instead.
Lineham’s exit was an early dual-reg blow for York, who had anticipated having him for longer. But they had to get used to dual-reg blows, the whole partner club agreement being brought increasingly into question.
The Knights didn’t abuse the ethos of dual-reg like one or two of their rivals – giving Super League stars run-outs in the Championship instead of using it to blood up-and-coming players – but they hardly benefited from it on the field of play.
Lineham, Jack Briscoe and, to some extent, Dan Hadley can be absolved from criticism, their attitudes showing through in their application, but the likes, most notably, of Danny Nicklas, Jason Crookes and Jamie Shaul – who has caught the eye for Hull’s first team – hardly seemed bothered to drive up the A1079 never mind put themselves about in the Knights’ cause.
The nadir came in the Northern Rail Cup loss to Doncaster when Shaul and Crookes barely broke sweat.
Furthermore, the promise that big props Josh Bowden or Chris Green would regularly beef up the Knights’ front row never materialised, and just when a depleted York outfit really needed some additional firepower, especially following Briscoe’s injury, the flow of dual-reg players completely dried up, leaving York to go it alone in their relegation run-in.
That said, York achieved their greatest win of the year, and probably of any league campaign since re-forming, without any of them.
Hull withdrew the lot as cover for their own Easter double-header, and the Knights promptly and deservedly beat a Featherstone side who have just finished as league leaders for the third year running.
Such a victory came amid a run of home wins in the first half of the season, which included a 48-6 demolition of Workington, their biggest league win since promotion in 2010.
SUCH results showed this club could be more than competitive at this level, and had plenty of supporters looking forward to a play-off push.
However, that Featherstone game was the last before a long lay-off for Matt Nicholson and also came after big-money signing Jason Golden’s season had been ended by injury.
Both players were star turns at the club and would surely have made a difference throughout the season had they been on the field for longer. They also took up a fair bit of the budget on contract money, meaning the club couldn’t necessarily splash out on replacements.
Captain James Ford was also in and out with injury, while big Adam Sullivan had to play through the pain barrier before finally having to call it a day, not long after Briscoe departed.
Such injuries added to the bad luck coming the Knights’ way, and contributed to the fact they fielded no fewer than 44 players throughout the year – more than in previous, worse, seasons.
Did this player merry-go-round play a part in the disastrous run of defeats at the end of the season? Well, nobody questioned the spirit in the camp and effort was never lacking. The changing team, barring a few disjointed displays, also seemed to gel reasonably well.
However, the club – be it due to finances or the options in the market – struggled to replace players of the calibre of Nicholson and Golden and this meant big holes weren’t ably filled regularly enough to succeed at this level.
There have been, it must be said, very few calls for coach Thornton’s head, and chairman John Guildford has confirmed the former Batley boss will remain in charge.
Thornton may face more pressure come this time next year, however, if the Knights do not enjoy an immediate promotion to have another crack at this level.
Player ratings 2013
(In order of appearances, with rating out of ten if made four or more appearances. App – appearances; T – tries; G – goals; FG – field goals)
Jack Lee 9/10
An influential figure and back on song this season after perhaps a stale 2012 by his standards. The Knights were always a much better team with him on the field.
Tom Carr 7/10
A27 as sub, T5, G63
Looked a find in the first half of the campaign, as a confident ball-playing full-back with lots of attributes and a good skill set. Prone to the occasional brain explosion, though, and must learn when’s best to try things off the cuff or test that skill set in a game situation. Bound to get better with experience.
Jack Latus 6/10
A25+1 as sub, T2
Consistency levels occasionally dropped and he needs to score more tries for a threequarter, but was solid, strong, ever-willing and when on song helped to form a good combination on the left flank.
Jonny Presley 6/10
Probably not first choice at half-back or hooker yet sat out only five matches. Had some excellent games but quiet at other times.
Jack Aldous 7/10
The 2012 Press Player of the Year began this season very well and never shirked work, playing big minutes and missing few tackles. Everyone knows he’s not the biggest prop, though.
Sam Scott 9/10
Named The Press Player of the Year and the Players’ Player of the Year after winning the admiration of team-mates and opponents alike for his effort and application. A title winner with Sheffield in 2012, he certainly didn’t deserve the drop this time round.
Simon Brown 6/10
A20, T1, G11, FG1
Big-money recruit sporadically showed why he was brought in as organiser-in-chief but, while he hurt teams on occasion with his kicking game, he didn’t have the kind of influence throughout the season that the club hoped they’d acquired.
Ed Smith 7/10
Hard to believe he’s still only 20 as he seems to have been around a long time. Still developing and never lets his home-town club down.
Adam Sullivan 7/10
‘Mr Consistency’ has been superb for the Knights on and off the pitch and will be hard to replace in the pack now he has retired.
Luke Stenchion 6/10
Always liable to cut at least one opponent in half per match with some hard-hitting tackling technique but not the biggest of props and that told when carrying the ball into bigger men.
Craig Potter 5/10
Steady but never spectacular.
Kriss Brining 7/10
Awarded Most Improved Player gong by the club, he has continued development apace and is a fully-fledged first-teamer aged 19. Causes trouble when going from dummy-half and, while some see his future in the back-row, if he sharpens up his passing, he could excel at hooker for the next decade.
Austin Bell 5/10
Did a decent job in first year at this level, though became a bit-part player in second half of term.
George Elliott 7/10
Took until mid-May to nail down a place but was arguably York’s most consistent threequarter thereafter. Sometimes second best under a high ball but deceptive strength and footwork.
Jack Briscoe 8/10
The main, and perhaps only, success of the dual-reg system for York. The threequarter had the right attitude and it showed in his displays until injury struck to, crucially, rule him out of the run-in.
Ben Johnston 8/10
Ability to make something from nothing makes the young York lad a real threat, a shown by his try tally. Could do with developing his kicking game but experience will improve his general game-play, and Knights fans would love it if Castleford extended his loan into next season.
James Ford 6/10
Injuries meant the captain was in and out of the side and never played more than three games on the trot, but he remains popular on the terraces and in the dressing room. Lauded for his efforts as under-20s boss and, while coaching is his likely pathway, he could also have a future on the wireless, judging by his efforts as occasional summariser on BBC Radio York.
Nathan Freer 6/10
Off the pace after his return from rugby union but picked up his performances.
Aaron Lyons 5/10
Struggled to hold onto a shirt but rolled socks down (literally and metaphorically) when he did play.
Joe Pickets 6/10
Seems to enjoy hitting very hard and punching above his weight, making him good to watch and unpleasant to play against. Hasn’t lost a penchant for giving away penalties, mind.
Danny Nicklas 4/10
Showed glimpses of ability but didn’t want to be on dual-reg at York and got away when he could.
Matt Nicholson 8/10
Some superb performances – York’s one prop who regularly broke the line or got out offloads – and he was sorely missed when ruled out for two thirds of the season.
Dean Hadley 6/10
Probably the second-best dual-reg arrival, he showed ability quite often and he was probably missed when Hull didn’t let him back.
One of the top performers for the U20s at hooker or back-row, but couldn’t quite replicate that enough to hold down a place when called up to first team. Good lad to have around either way.
Dougie Flockhart 7/10
A9, T6, G1
Scot struggled to shake off some rugby union tendencies on arrival but this fella can finish and it was a shame when he left.
Nat Browne 5/10
Superb debut for the strong, stocky winger – two tries in win over former club Featherstone – but tailed off and began struggling to make training due to work.
Ben Dent 6/10
Showed greenness when sporadically called up from the U20s in first half of the year, but superb when recalled for season finale.
James Haynes 5/10
Crowd favourite struggled to hit previous heights after his year-long injury absence, and returned to the amateur game.
Ryan Mallinder 6/10
Took rise from amateur to professional game in his stride and who’s to say he can’t go up another gear after a good off-season?
Liam Kent 5/10
Dual-reg second-row didn’t really show Super League pedigree here.
Jack Pickles 5/10
Successful trial and some solid displays but season was disrupted by head injury.
Sam Latus 5/10
Late-season arrival from Hull KR at times formed a good partnership with brother Jack but not regularly enough for someone of his apparent calibre, culminating in shocker in relegation match at Doncaster.
Jason Golden 5/10
Injury wrecked his season in the first month – which was costly for York as the club reaped no dividend from sizeable outlay.
Greg Minikin 6/10
If the 18-year-old continues developing at present rate, he will have a big future. Seen as James Ford’s protégé (tongue in cheek or not).
Brooke Broughton 5/10
No complaints, but was unable to affect things when he finally got his first-team chance in last four games of season.
Did okay but it wasn’t long before Hull recalled him.
Has been eyecatching for Hull... but hardly seemed to bother when on dual-reg at York.
Average loan spell.
Did okay on dual-reg but went back to Hull after a month never to return. There were plenty of times York could have done with him too.
Youngster looked a bit in awe in two early games but hasn’t half come on in the U20s, where he often stands out, and he could well have a bigger role to play next year.
Quickly showed he was more than ready for the top tier and parent club Hull took him back after two games. It was a shame for the Knights but great for the lad himself who was ever-willing to do his bit for home-town club York and is now earning Super League stardom.
One lazy appearance on dual-reg.
Little hooker is one for the future.
Youngster hoping to come through.
Award winners 2013
Players’ Player of the Year: Sam Scott.
The Press Player of the Year: 1 Sam Scott, 2 Jack Lee, 3 Adam Sullivan.
Coaches’ Player of the Year: Jack Lee.
Most Improved Player: Kriss Brining.
Try of the Year: Ben Johnston.
Clubperson of the Year: Mick Cook.
Services to the Club award: Adam Sullivan.
Players of the Month – February: Jack Aldous; March: Jack Aldous; April: Tom Carr; May: Jonny Presley; June: Jack Latus; July: Dougie Flockhart; August: Sam Scott.
Match stats 2013
3 Whitehaven (A) L32-22 (T: Ford, Lee, Lineham 2. G: Brown 3)
10 Swinton (H) W34-12 (T: Ford, Lineham 2, Briscoe 2, Arundel. G: Brown 5)
17 Batley (A) L42-4 (T: Arundel)
24 Halifax (H) L18-14 (T: Briscoe, Hadley, Carr. G: Brown)
1 Sheffield (A) L46-14 (T: Elliott, Presley 2. G: Carr).
10 Workington (H) W 48-6 (T: Lee 3, Briscoe 2, Hadley 2, Carr, Presley. G: Carr 6)
17 Keighley (A) L34-0
29 Featherstone (H) W24-16 (T: Nicholson, Browne 2, Brining. G: Carr 4).
1 Barrow (A) L20-18 (T: Ford, Brining, Smith. G: Carr 3).
7 Blackbrook (A) W26-24 (T: Ford, Lee, Presley, Carr. G: Carr 5)
14 Dewsbury (H) W29-20 (T: Lee 2, Browne, Latus, Morrison. G: Carr 4. FG: Brown)
21 Toulouse (H) W30-28 (T: Lee, Carr, Browne, Brining 2. G: Carr 5)
28 Hunslet (A) L26-12 (T: Browne, Kent. G: Carr 2)
5 Leigh (H) L52-4 (T: Shaul)
12 Catalans (A) L92-8 (T: Brining. G: Carr 2)
19 Doncaster (H) L24-12 (T: Presley, Johnston. G: Brown 2)
26 Featherstone (A) L52-6 (T: Sullivan. G: Scott)
2 Doncaster (H) W42-10 (T: Lee, Hadley, Carr, Elliott, Johnston 3. G: Carr 7)
9 Keighley (H) W32-12 (T: Elliott 2, Flockhart, Scott, Pickets, Aldous. G: Carr 4)
23 Leigh (A) L42-20 (T: Smith, Flockhart 2, Minkin. G: Carr 2)
4 Barrow (H) L26-24 (T: Briscoe, Johnston, Flockhart, Scott. G: Carr 4)
14 Dewsbury (A) L20-16 (T: Flockhart, Scott, Lyons. G: Carr 2)
21 Whitehaven (H) L20-4 (T: Flockhart)
28 Halifax (A) L18-16 (T: Lee, Latus, Johnston. G: Carr 2)
4 Sheffield (H) L42-16 (T: Lee, Elliott, Johnston. G: Carr 2)
8 Swinton (A) L34-10 (T: Nicholson, Johnston. G: Carr)
18 Hunslet (H) L30-33 (T: Brown, Elliott, Johnston 2, Latus. G: Carr 5)
22 Workington (A) L22-18 (T: Smith, Scott, Latus. G: Carr 3)
28 Doncaster (A) L38-20 (T: Lee 2, Dent 2. G: Carr 2)
1 Batley (H) L34-16 (T: Elliott, Presley, Johnston. G: Carr 2)
Comments are closed on this article.