IT has taken ten attempts but York City Knights have finally ended the stranglehold Hunslet have held over them for almost five years.
Eight defeats have been punctured only by one draw in competitive meetings between the arch-rivals going back to June 2009 – in the days before Paul March swapped the player-coach’s reins at York for those at Hunslet and took half the team with him.
Yesterday’s 28-26 win at South Leeds Stadium at last provided Knights fans with bragging rights, and, while the last laugh will still be had not so early in the season but in the promotion play-offs come September, the result may see the bookies rethink which of the two sides should be title favourites.
That result did York injustice too, as two late tries flattered the Hawks – especially the touchdown on the final hooter which came courtesy of a pass so forward that the points should instead go onto next week’s scoreboard.
York also missed four of six conversion attempts.
One factor the bookies may consider, though, is that, come the play-offs, Jake Webster will not be in a York shirt.
His inclusion on dual-registration from Castleford yesterday may have been controversial – the Kiwi needed special dispensation to be allowed to play on dual-reg – but was clearly the correct move by Knights boss Gary Thornton as the 30-year-old centre made a big contribution, especially in defence, despite it being his first game after a 12-month injury absence.
However, the victory was not about him but a team effort, built primarily on forward endeavour as the Knights’ pack got on top of their Hunslet counterparts, five of whom are former York players.
Webster was joined on dual-reg by young Cas full-back Ben Reynolds, two of six changes to the York team that beat Gloucestershire in unconvincing fashion on the opening day.
One of those changes was enforced, as, in a blow before the match, impact prop Iain Morrison was ruled out with a chest infection – Nathan Freer coming in for his first outing this year.
Jack Aldous was also back from his ban, while Jonny Presley made his return, taking Benn Hardcastle’s place at half-back. Hardcastle in turn took Kriss Brining place on the bench.
Brining was unfortunate to be left out – but the plan worked, with all six incomers proving their worth.
For Hunslet, former York stand-off Danny Grimshaw was back fit, and, along with winger Lee Mapals, sub Brooke Broughton and the front five, took the ex-York contingent in the home ranks up to eight.
A bit of good fortune helped the Knights build their early lead.
Their field kicking wasn’t great on the whole but it was kicks – and some lucky bounces – that brought three of their opening four tries.
Firstly, a clever Presley chip bounced back his way, and he shipped the ball out for Greg Minikin to finish well.
Then Smith, Presley’s half-back partner, tried a similar chip and again the ball came back to the kicker. He seemed to have no options but angled his run and his kick to the right corner where another wicked bounce took out the defence and allowed brother Ed Smith to score.
Thirdly, Reynolds’ neat chip saw George Elliott, unchallenged aside the right touchline, pat the ball back inside for Presley to score.
In between times, Pat Smith scrambled home to finish a brilliant try down the right, with Reynolds and, in particular, Webster heavily involved.
The inquests began in the Hawks defence, but they struck back after the half-hour. Liam Hood, gifted a sitter as Reynolds misjudged a bounce, somehow spilled the ball with the line begging. But the next set saw Aston Wilson got over.
They would have scored again but for Webster superbly covering a kick and knocking over the chasers. However, the hosts now had the luck.
Reynolds pulled off a last-man tackle on Kain but held him down too long and was sin-binned. Hunslet wasted the overlap but a fortunate ricochet brought a try on half-time for Hood.
Hard work, excellent tackling and home profligacy saw York negotiate the first eight minutes of the second half a man down.
As soon as Reynolds came back on, they scored. Mapals dropped the ball in front of his sticks, and Webster sent Lee Paterson in, Hardcastle goaling.
Another penalty gave Hunslet another route back in – Pat Smith the guilty party, Hood again the scorer, Andy Ballard goaling.
The game got scrappy, York unable to keep control despite the fact the Hawks regularly lost possession as they sought to cut the gap further, with Danny Maun, of all people, fluffing a gilt-edged chance for the hosts.
York put the game to bed with eight minutes left.
Minikin’s superb 65-metre run was ended by the speedy Mapals, but a quick play-the-ball brought a good finish by Ben Dent.
A penalty provided the platform for a second Wilson try at the other end, and Ballard also scored, courtesy of that forward pass, Ballard adding the extras too.
But the victory was York’s.
Knights: Reynolds 7, Elliott 7, Webster 8, Minikin 8, B Dent 8, P Smith 7, Presley 7, Bell 7, Lee 8, Aldous 7, Golden 8, E Smith 7, Paterson 8. Subs (all used): B Hardcastle 6, Mallinder 8, Freer 7, Joynt 6.
Tries: Minikin 6; E Smith 10; P Smith 16; Presley 27; Paterson 50; B Dent 73.
Conversions: Reynolds 16; B Hardcastle 50.
Sin-binned: Reynolds 38.
Hunslet: Kain, Mapals, Wilson, Maun, Ballard, Grimshaw, T Coyle, Houston, March, Stenchion, Oakes, Lyons, Mackay. Subs (all used): Hood, Broughton, Reed, Haley.
Tries: Wilson 33, 76; Hood 40, 53; Ballard 80.
Conversions: Ballard 53, 76, 80.
Man of the match: Lee Paterson – another leading performance from the York-born loose-forward, regularly taking responsibility as well as the fight to the opposition.
Referee: Adam Gill (Widnes) – very good.
Weather: sunny and warm – in stark contrast to last week, particularly for ref Gill, who abandoned his match between South Wales and Oldham as players were suffering hypothermia.
Moment of the match: Pat Smith’s 16th-minute try, finishing a quality team move down the right.
Gaffe of the match: how the officials missed the forward pass for Hunslet’s last consolation try is anybody’s guess. “When did we sign Dan Marino?” quipped one fan.
Gamebreaker: there was always a danger Hunslet would force a way back in until Greg Minikin’s brilliant run and quick play-the-ball saw Ben Dent finish well in the corner to make it 28-14 with seven minutes left.
Match rating: it got a bit scrappy in the second half but the first half-hour in particular suggested maybe York should be title favourites.