SAM ORANGE, the York City Knights forward currently sidelined by a knee injury, made a valid point after watching his team-mates begin their Championship One campaign with a 26-16 victory over Gloucestershire All Golds.
Last year, he pointed out, York would have lost a game like this, having thrown away a 16-6 half-time lead and allowed the visitors to get their tails up.
This time, however, it was they who, with the scores tied, got themselves together and came up with the winning moves – two tries in the last 13 minutes – while it was the opposition who got all shaky and misguided.
There were probably a few reasons for it, the reintroduction of captain Jack Lee and enforcer Iain Morrison clearly being one.
The latter had played only ten first-half minutes off the bench but his influence on both outfits was obvious: he lifted his team-mates and made a big enough impact on the visitors, not least with one barnstorming run that skittled defenders, to leave them desperate to avoid him when he returned to the fray for the final quarter.
Just ask winger James Fisher, the rugby union product who’d had a good game up until being clattered so hard he lost not only possession but also his senses for a good few minutes. Morrison then stood over him and uttered something or other. “Welcome to rugby league” perhaps.
Another reason was the simple fact Gloucestershire aren’t great.
They are certainly improving, having won only two games in their debut season, and a few new players – not least Craig Cook, who has filled out a bit but is still a canny hooker, and Tongan international second-row James Tutu’ila, who is similarly unathletic-looking but possesses power and a deft touch – brought a fair bit to the party.
But this was far from the Championship quality that the Knights were up against last year.
Another reason was the fact York tidied up their discipline whereas the All Golds did the opposite.
The visitors had been handed four penalties on the bounce after half-time, helping them to score two tries to equalise and giving them the chance to go ahead, as York loose-forward Lee Paterson, when in possession 26 metres from his own posts, struck out at Danny Thomas in apparent retaliation for something in the tackle.
Aidan Jenkins, having booted two conversions, missed the kick, though, after which the All Golds, perhaps fearing their chance had gone, lost their way and in turn conceded five consecutive free-kicks to hand back the momentum.
One final reason was the ability of York’s two half-backs to come up with decisive plays.
Stand-off Pat Smith was very good throughout, organising and buzzing around, and it was fitting that he should score the match-turning try 13 minutes from time.
Smith had gone to Gloucester on loan from Sheffield last year and helped to make the All Golds a much more competitive Championship One side. He showed them again what a tricky customer he can be when he tried to burrow to the whitewash and spun like a top to get the ball down.
Scrum-half Benn Hardcastle, meanwhile, had endured a much more up-and-down day, but twice popped up with key moments.
He scored an interception try in the first half but his game was littered with poor options in possession until, with five minutes left, he jinked one way then the other and popped the ball up for Jason Golden to crash over.
Hardcastle also added his third conversion to seal the three-point haul.
There had been little sign of the tension to come as York slowly built their first-half lead, having broken the deadlock on ten minutes through winger Ben Dent, finishing a smart move down the left.
Any hopes the hosts had that it would get easy were quickly dashed as All Golds’ former Dewsbury scrum-half, Danny Thomas, chipped the defensive line, regathered and scored, after spotting full-back Luke Hardcastle wasn’t at home.
Hardcastle was unlucky as he’d effected the preceding tackle but he generally had a debut to forget, including handling errors and rash judgments, which saw Dent switch to full-back before half-time to take him out of the firing line.
York quickly retook the lead after Jenkins misfielded the restart, as Jake Joynt capped a good opening stint when scoring from Lee’s crash ball.
Benn Hardcastle then increased the lead when picking off an overambitious pass by ex-Knights youngster Ash Haynes, and either side of this try the hosts had two more ruled out for forward passes, scored by George Elliott and the unfortunate Luke Hardcastle.
But Gloucester were still in it and, when Marcus Elliot opened the second-half scoring when finishing superbly after another Thomas chip caused problems, the York faithful were getting worried.
Cook’s smart short-side move then saw Jenkins equalise, and home fans feared the worst.
However, the game turned once more, with those Smith and Golden tries. Austin Bell was also held up in the last minute but another Knights score then would have made it all rather flattering.
Knights: L Hardcastle 5, B Dent 6, Morland 6, Minikin 7, Elliott 6, P Smith 8, B Hardcastle 6, Joynt 6, Lee 7, Bell 6, Golden 6, E Smith 6, Paterson 8. Subs (all used): Brining 6, Morrison 7, Crane 6, Mallinder 6.
Tries: Dent 10; Joynt 20; B Hardcastle 24; P Smith 67; Golden 75.
Conversions: B Hardcastle 20, 24, 75.
All Golds: Elliot, Rance, Greene, Jenkins, Fisher, Barlow, Thomas, Chapman-Walker, Cook, Duffy, Muranka, Tutu’ila, Haynes. Subs (all used): Tyson-Wilson, Nolan, McClean, Cowburn.
Tries: Thomas 18; Elliot 44; Jenkins 53.
Conversions: Thomas 18, 53.
Man of the match: Pat Smith – sponsors’ choice Iain Morrison certainly had an impact but Lee Paterson was a leader throughout and Smith an excellent influence. Paterson would have got the nod but marred his display by lashing out to concede a penalty that could have given All Golds the lead, while Smith capped his with the game-turning try.
Referee: Mike Woodhead (St Helens) – okay.
Weather: wet with a downfield wind and showers.
Moment of the match: Jason Golden’s try, which sealed victory and brought relief. Benn Hardcastle came up with a superb piece of skill, jinking one way then the next, then flipping out a superb pass for Golden.
Gaffe of the match: four consecutive penalties for Gloucestershire after the break helped the All Golds come back.
Gamebreaker: All Golds clicked off after Aidan Jenkins missed the 63rd-minute penalty what would have put them ahead. York, with Jack Lee and Iain Morrison back on the field, clicked on again, Pat Smith scoring the 67th-minute try that turned the game.
Match rating: aside from some uplifting hits by Iain Morrison, it was an uninspiring victory.