BOSS Gary Thornton had said York City Knights’ friendly against Gateshead yesterday would be a better indication of the campaign to come than the defeat at partner club Castleford – and, judging by the result, things are pointing in the right direction.
A heavy defeat to a Super League club last week was turned into a 30-20 win this time out against rivals from Championship One, who, according to new coach Stanley Gene, the Papua New Guinea legend, will be aiming for the play-offs.
York’s performance was not wholly inspirational, largely due to sluggish second half of each period, but it was still good enough, when they moved up a gear or two, to see off the plucky visitors.
Moreover, while pre-season results must always be taken with a pinch of salt, the victory augurs well especially when considering the players the Knights had on the sidelines – Jason Golden, Jonny Presley, Ed Smith, James Ford, Iain Morrison, Nathan Freer and Kriss Brining among them. Both teams have improvement in them, but with those players yet to come in, one would expect the Knights to have more higher gears to find.
The game began both well and badly for the home team.
Lee Paterson, a welcome sight back in a Knights shirt and one of the old heads in another young starting line-up, was a clear leader on the pitch as the hosts built early pressure which was capped by a try from teenager Greg Minikin, whose star continues to rise.
However, that early pressure also brought injury to Ben Dent, as he chased a Pat Smith kick and collided with a steeplechase hurdle left too close to the perimeter of the pitch. He needed 11 stitches in a bad wound.
That good opening did not last, however, as York’s play slowed down, as if they were going through processes too deliberately and methodically, and Gateshead sensed a way back.
Thunder scrum-half Carl Puckering, the East Hull amateur, began causing problems, especially with little chips over the defensive line. He nearly scored himself from one and, from the next, after the visitors had been gifted possession by Jack Lee, Alex Ruff did score – Curtis Macdonald, a replacement for Dent, having been unable to deal with the loose ball.
Minikin went close again for York with a solo effort, but the visitors forced a dropout and then took the lead.
Jason Payne had too much power for the Knights’ right-side defence, Puckering converting, and, in the very next attack, the second-row scored again when sent clear by leggy winger Carl Booth, who had beaten George Elliott too easily.
The hosts immediately struck back as loose-forward Paterson intercepted for an easy run-in, Ben Crane adding his second conversion, but the Knights still needed to find extra impetus after the interval.
They had been fortunate before half-time when Puckering, after another chip and regather, had sent Gateshead over again only for his offload to be called forward. But the luck was against them when a jinking run by teenage hooker Harry Carter put Luke Hardcastle in, only for referee Jamie Bloem to pull play back for the same reason.
Carter’s spark helped to provide the much-needed momentum.
Benn Hardcastle also made a difference at half-back – though that is no slight on 18-year-old James Morland, who looked pretty comfortable in tougher surroundings – while Jack Aldous, back from suspension, was effective up front and Lee lifted his game, too.
They duly retook the lead as Jake Joynt gathered a loose ball for an easy touchdown at the end of a decent attack, and, when a Hardcastle kick caused more bother in the Gateshead rearguard, Macdonald pounced. The try was initially awarded to Ryan Mallinder - which would have capped an excellent performance, full of vigour, which could easily have brought man-of-the-match honours.
Those instead went to Paterson – although, as the announcement was made over the PA system, the loose-forward saw a pass picked off for Puckering to score and convert an interception try.
By then the Knights had gone further in front thanks to a Lee try, the hooker zipping powerfully in from dummy-half, with Benn Hardcastle adding his third conversion.
Dent should be fit for the start of the season, while the Knights will check on Ryan Backhouse this week after he limped off in the second half.
Knights: Talbot, Elliott, Rogers, Minikin, B Dent, Morland, P Smith, Joynt, Lee, Aldous, Crane, Mallinder, Paterson. Subs (all used): L Hardcastle, Macdonald, Tomlinson, B Hardcastle, Pickerill, Pickles, Carter, Backhouse.
Tries: Minikin 13; Paterson 29; Joynt 48; Mallinder 52; Lee 57. Goals: Crane 2/2; B Hardcastle 3/3.
Gateshead: S Lynch, Booth, Blades, Brown, Capper, Stamp, Puckering, Lynch, Hough, Thewliss, Ruff, Payne, Barron. Subs (all used): Murray, Pocklington, Krebs, Stoker, Condron, Jones, Hodgson.
Tries: Ruff 19; Payne 27, 28; Puckering 75.
Goals: Puckering 2/4.
Referee: Jamie Bloem. Attendance: 402.