GARY THORNTON had said York City Knights needed to “win and win well” when they faced the York Select XIII yesterday –and that is exactly what they.
Anything else, Thornton feared, would have been seen as a backward step after the encouraging performance in defeat to Championship champions Sheffield.
He needn’t have worried. The 70-14 scoreline, and the manner in which his men out-played their opposition, bodes well for their Championship One campaign that begins in 13 days’ time at home to Gloucestershire All Golds.
As did the display of a certain Iain Morrison. If anyone was not going to take a backward step then it was the bruising former Widnes, Hull KR and Featherstone prop, whose direct running and forceful hitting was a throwback to days of yore and had even the crowd wincing in pain.
Morrison was making his bow for the Knights and played as if he had a point to prove, having missed the bulk of pre-season due to work commitments. (It’s no surprise those work commitments have been as a fitness trainer.)
His half-hour on the pitch probably wasn’t fun for the lads in the Select line-up – not least Martin McTigue, whose first involvement after coming on was to be knocked and carried about ten metres in the air as Morrison took the ball up with fearsome force. But this season at Huntington Stadium could be a lot of fun for Knights fans if the 30-year-old can stay fit.
On that note, the fact he departed with a limp after tweaking a hamstring towards the end of his crowd-pleasing stint was a concern, but the club are optimistic the problem is not serious.
Back-rower Jason Golden got through 70 good minutes after his 11 months out and capped his encouraging return with a try, one of 13 scored by the Knights.
Indeed, there were good displays all over the pitch with players clearly laying claim to shirts come March 2 – Pat Smith an obvious case in point.
Thornton has a particular headache in picking his pivots, and, while Morrison was given the sponsors’ man-of-the-match accolade for his crash bang wallop, Smith could easily have taken the award for his guile, control and energy.
Benn Hardcastle’s stock also rose again as that pair worked well together – leaving Jonny Presley stung into action with a decent cameo and try off the bench, making sure he stayed up the pecking order.
The two hookers, Jack Lee and Kriss Brining, also scored amid fine shows – just in case Thornton was considering leaving out either of them.
It all contributed to the biggest win in five such pre-season fixtures to date, and by far the most one-sided.
The fact most of the amateur lads that made up the representative Select side were also in pre-season – rather than midway through a winter campaign and therefore not match-sharp like in previous clashes – made a difference, as did the fact Thornton fielded such a strong side.
But, despite the scoreline, they did themselves proud, and kept battling to the end, creditably scoring the last points of both halves.
York Acorn centres Matthew Woods, who scored two tries, and Aaran Thompson were probably the pick of their team, while New Earswick hooker Jack Carling tackled his heart out.
Second-row Joe Porter also showed up well, albeit after a mistake – misjudging James Haynes’ dabbed kicked down the line – which handed Haynes a third-minute touchdown and gave the Select side the kind of start they didn’t need.
It was 16-0 by the eight-minute mark as Lee and full-back Luke Hardcastle also crossed, Benn Hardcastle adding from the touchline two of his eight conversions.
Golden scored from a Smith pass, before a towering kick from Ant Chilton on 22 minutes was a precursor to the first bit of pressure on the Knights ranks – only for Lee Paterson to retake possession and hand on to Lee, who gave Smith the chance to show a good turn of foot from 70 metres out.
James Ford finished after handling from Benn Hardcastle, Ryan Mallinder and Haynes left the defence bewildered, and Brining added to the lead, before two penalties gave Select a foothold for Woods to finish smartly.
Winger Ben Dent’s solo try kicked off the second-half scoring, with Luke Hardcastle and Brining having tries disallowed before Woods struck again at the other end after excellent work by Thompson.
Greg Minikin scored twice, Luke Hardcastle goaling one, as normal service resumed, while under-20s stand-off James Morland, showing his speed after coming on at centre, set up Presley’s score.
Lee got his second, then set up Ryan Mallinder, before Select veteran Andy Gargan, the former Knight, ended the scoring after Ryan Gallacher was halted short following an excellent run by a Joe Budd.
Knights: L Hardcastle, Haynes, Ford, Minikin, B Dent, P Smith, B Hardcastle, Bell, Lee, Aldous, Golden, Smith, Paterson. Subs (all used): Brining, Joynt, Morrison, Mallinder, Presley, Tomlinson, Morland, Orange.
Tries: Haynes 3; Lee 5, 72; L Hardcastle 8; Golden 18; P Smith 25; Ford 31; Brining 34; Dent 42; Minikin 57, 62; Presley 67; Mallinder 74. Goals: B Hardcastle 3, 8, 18, 25, 31, 34, 67, 72; Luke Hardcastle 62.
Select XIII: Budd, Johnson, Woods, Thompson, Gallacher, L Gargan, Chilton, Endersby, Carling, Stearman, Porter, Withington, A Gargan. Subs (all used): Burns, Embleton, McTigue, Speck, Myers, Hyde, Payne, Rientoul.
Tries: Woods 40; 53; A Gargan 78. Goals: Chilton 78.
Referee: Greg Dolan.