PROUD Gary Thornton said he’d be happy to take anyone on in the fourth round of the Tetley’s Challenge Cup after his buoyant York City Knights side upset the third-round odds in thrilling fashion.
The Knights, top of Championship One, came from 16-0 down to shock Championship side Whitehaven 34-32 at Huntington Stadium, avenging a league double least year and getting one over on ex-boss Dave Woods.
They did so despite being without four frontline players in Lee Paterson, Iain Morrison, Jason Golden and James Ford, as well as any dual-registered Castleford players, and despite the blow of losing three men to injury - Kriss Brining breaking an ankle and Ben Crane and Ben Dent suffering potentially serious ankle ligament damage. Brining will be out for at least six weeks, with Crane and Dent possibly sidelined for just as long.
Thornton admitted those injuries marred an excellent day but, when asked whom he wanted to be paired with in tomorrow’s draw, he beamed: “I’ll take anybody down here - the way we’re playing I don’t mind who we get.
Bring them on. We want a very favourable draw - one of the big boys to get some money into the bank would be good.”
Thornton had wanted his side to avenge defeats home and away which contributed to York’s relegation last year, as well as give his club the chance of a tie against Super League big-guns.
Shocking an outfit from a higher tier was also an incentive.
He said: “We didn’t get off to the best of starts but credit this group of players. They’ve got some character. It was a terrific performance and they thoroughly deserved the win.
“We were down to 14 (fit players), with three injured and two of them off the hospital with suspected breaks. It was backsagainst- the-wall stuff but they showed terrific character.
“Some of the goal-line defence was simply fantastic. It was some of the best I’ve seen in a long, long time. From full-back, through the back line to the middle unit, they were terrific.
“The forwards were immense.
They had to do it tough. If you lose men (to injury) that’s where you become most vulnerable, in the middle. They had it tough but, like at Hunslet last week, that’s where we won the game.
They did the hard stuff which allowed the edge players to do what they do best.
“We were very successful on the edge. We had two centres who are 18 (James Morland and Greg Minikin) but they have so much confidence for young blokes, and some of the tries we scored were outstanding.
“We see it in practice all the time and, when they demonstrate that skill level in games and in tough competition against a side from a higher tier, it’s great. For a coach to watch it and see it all come together like that is brilliant.”
Morland and Minikin both scored, while Harry Carter, another 18-year-old in a young side, set up a vital second-half try.
“We had three 18-year-olds out there,” added Thornton. “But they’re all developing really well.
“I’m so proud of that team and their effort, right across the board from one to 17. They were excellent.”
Asked what had kick-started the comeback, Thornton said: “As soon as we got a try, our confidence grew. We got another try and we didn’t look back.”
He added: “We can only take it game by game. We can’t get carried away. We have to stay focused. I’m massively proud and delighted with the result, but we have to come back down to earth and make sure we beat South Wales next week. It’s all about the long-term. We’re setting really good standards and it’s about maintaining them.”
Woods, meanwhile, was magnanimous in defeat.
He said: “We fell in love with ourselves (at 16-0 up). We thought we were champions. But York are a very good young side and they showed us how to play.”