Match report: Knights 34, Whitehaven 32 - Challenge Cup
YORK City Knights have been involved in a few tremendous Challenge Cup ties down the years.
There was the 2011 record-smashing 132-0 demolition of a Northumbria University side who really shouldn’t have been in the competition.
And defeats of much-fancied Toulouse in 2007 and 2013.
Then there was the unforgettable case of 12 men winning in the last minute at Featherstone in 2004. And the shock 32-28 victory at Oldham 12 months later that kick-started a run which ended in promotion.
Those latter two victories will take some beating, but today’s 34-32 victory over Whitehaven, likewise a team from a higher tier, is up there with them.
Furthermore, if this early-season form continues, it could similarly be a precursor for promotion joy.
Head coach Gary Thornton again insisted everyone should keep their feet on the ground. We are, after all, just three matches into the new season.
But even he must have been walking on air for a little bit after his men - in some cases boys - came from 16-0 down and out of it to 22-16 ahead at half-time, before deservedly hanging on in adversity in a ding-dong second half.
It really was a brilliant cup tie, with Jonny Presley’s huge grin - uncontrollably beaming from ear to ear, like a boy who’d eaten far too much sugar - saying it all as the players walked off the field to rapturous applause.
What’s more, they did all this despite being without four key men in Iain Morrison, Lee Paterson, James Ford and Jason Golden as well as any dual-reg Castleford players.
And despite seeing Ben Crane and Kriss Brining head off to hospital after first-half injuries and Ben Dent join them on the injury list in the second half.
It was indeed a victory which deserved big smiles all round.
It also deserved a much bigger crowd, although those in attendance did get louder and prouder as the game wore on, desperately urging their lads to dig ever deeper.
It also deserves the reward of a plum fourth-round draw, especially after they were unlucky enough in the first place to miss out on amateur opposition, and simpler progress, in round three.
Such joy looked out of the question a quarter of the way through the tie, with Haven on course for a straightforward victory.
Boss Dave Woods, the former Knights chief, had not taken the tie lightly, fielding his strongest available side, and they scored three tries, through Samir Tarahoui, Cain Southernwood and Jordan Burns, plus two Southernwood conversions.
York had also seen winger George Elliott groggily depart after being hurt when trapped in-goal, only to return to the fray after his replacement, Brining, was carried off.
They had also seen Jonny Presley have an immediate riposte ruled out by the officials for a knock-on underneath the restart.
However, they did soon get off the mark, with a 24th-minute try which sparked a comeback from nowhere.
Presley, superb with ball in hand at half-back, was the creator, smartly putting James Morland - back in the side at centre - through a huge gap, Ben Crane converting.
Then, following a penalty, Jack Lee’s crash ball had Ryan Mallinder touching down.
Then came an early try-of-the-season contender.
Elliott collected a kick on his own line and veered left before sending Greg Minikin on a superb run upfield. Faced by full-back Tom Carr, his former team-mate, he handed on to Presley to turn on the afterburners.
With crocked Crane off the field, James Haynes kicked the extras, as he did from the touchline following another superb move down York’s left edge, which saw Minikin send Dent crashing in to give his side the lead.
That lead could have increased either side of half-time as Haynes and Aldous had tries chalked off.
Haynes had superbly caught Pat Smith’s steepling kick but was ruled offside, while Aldous bounced the ball down after doing the hard work to get through.
A big feature of the second half was the Knights’ desperate goal-line defence. So often Haven looked sure to score only for someone to come from somewhere and hold them up.
It was finally breached by Brad Crellin but the hosts quickly struck back as Smith’s superb long ball saw Minikin finish with aplomb.
Haynes, not known for his goalkicking, again converted from the sideline, curling the ball in on the wind.
Burns quickly pegged York back with his second try, after Haven were dubiously awarded a scrum from the restart.
But again York bravely repelled further attacks before extending their lead on the back of Harry Carter’s incisive run. The teenage hooker, on an impressive 2014 bow, was denied by an ankle tap and Presley missed the chance to give Elliott and simple run-in from the play-the-ball, but when the ball went back to the right, Elliott did get his try.
The Knights were on their knees after keeping Haven out again, but Haynes eked them two scores ahead with a 75th-minute penalty.
It still wasn’t over as Tarahoui got his second try - cutting short home fans’ chant of “Woodsy, give us a wave” directed with irony at York’s former boss.
But two minutes later the final hooter did signal to great cheers the end of an absolute cracker.
Knights: Haynes 7, Elliott 7, Morland 8, Minikin 9, B Dent 7, P Smith 8, Presley 9, Bell 9, Lee 9, Aldous 9, Mallinder 7, E Smith 9, Crane 6. Subs (all used): Brining 6, Joynt 9, Carter 8, Freer 8.
Tries: Morland 24; Mallinder 28; Presley 31; Dent 37; Minikin 61; Elliott 67.
Conversions: Crane 24; Haynes 31, 37, 61.
Penalties: Haynes 75.
Sent off: none.
Whitehaven: Carr, Ainscough, McAvoy, Parker, Burns, Taylor, Southernwood, Jackson, Newton, Tarahoui, Mitchell, Doran, Marabe. Subs (all used): Thorman, Cullnean, Robinson, Crellin.
Tries: Tarahoui 10, 78; Southernwood 12; Burns 21, 64; Crellin 58.
Conversions: Southernwood 10, 12, 58, 78.
Sent off: none.
Man of the match: Austin Bell - ran hard all day amid another superb effort by the guys in the middle unit. Jack ‘Mr Duracell’ Aldous and scrum-half Jonny Presley can count themselves particularly unlucky not to get the nod.
Referee: Tom Crashley (Wakefield) – several curious decisions could easily have swung the game Haven’s way.
Moment of the match: York’s lengthof- the-field try to equalise at 16-16. It was started on his own line by George Elliott, carried on quite superbly by Greg Minikin - the teenager made the defence look like schoolboys as he scythed through - and finished by Jonny Presley.
Gaffe of the match: It was perhaps a ball steal which was missed by the officials but when the otherwise excellent Nathan Freer blotted his copybook when losing possession in midfield, it led to a late Haven try and an even more nervous finale to a thrilling cup tie.
Gamebreaker: On the scoreboard, it was James Haynes’ penalty, to add to his terrific touchline conversions, which made the difference, putting York eight points clear with five minutes left. Off the scoreboard, it was York’s desperate goal-line defence, especially in the last ten minutes when the youngsters were virtually running on empty.
Match rating: a simply superb cup tie.
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