York City Knights boss Gary Thornton defends selection after narrow Oldham loss
YORK City Knights boss Gary Thornton was quick to defend his decision to axe regular goalkicker Benn Hardcastle despite seeing his side lose a thriller at title rivals Oldham because of missed conversions.
Hardcastle had been the leading goalscorer in Championship One this season but was dropped after a poor display in the win over Hemel last week.
Without him, the Knights racked up seven tries in a remarkable turnaround at Whitebank, coming back from 27-0 to take the lead, but Ben Reynolds and James Haynes between them managed only one goal, before Oldham scored a heartbreaking late winner to edge the game 31-30. They notched only six tries but kicked three goals and a first-half drop-goal.
"It's a tough one, but would we have scored so many tries if we'd not made changes," said Thornton, who had omitted both Hardcastle and Jonny Presley in favour of a new half-back pairing of Reynolds and Pat Smith.
"How many times has James Haynes missed goals? Not many. Ben Reynolds had kicked goals in the reserves win at Leigh and didn't miss one. Even so, I'm not going to pick a player solely for goalkicking but for his all-round contribution.
"As far as I'm concerned, Pat Smith and Ben Reynolds did enough to create tries. I thought our half-backs played very well and I don't have to justify picking them."
Thornton was particularly peeved that one Reynolds attempt seemingly sailed through the uprights only to be waved away by the officials - a vital decision in the final outcome.
"I'm positive it went through," said Thornton, who had been stood right behind the kick. "It certainly looked good from where I was. We didn't kick well but that one did go over.
"We've thrown away 12 points (with those misses) and we've lost by one."
York also had two tries ruled out - Reynolds for knocking on at the whitewash and Ryan Backhouse for being offside at a kick - while Oldham's late match-winner was also dubious.
Said Thornton: "Ryan was maybe marginally offside, I'm not sure, but some of the lads reckoned Ben got the ball down.
"I couldn't see Oldham's last try very well but Pat Smith was adamant there was a knock-on.
"It would have been a big call to disallow it but it was a big call to allow it.
"I'm more disappointed with that goal, as it clearly went over."
Of the Knights' display as a whole, Thornton said: "It was a day of highs and lows.
"We started really poorly and Oldham were on fire. But you have to give our lads terrific credit for the character they showed to get back into and nose us in front."
As for skipper Jack Lee, who led the fightback, Thornton said: "I can't speak highly enough of him.
"He's done 80 minutes in that heat, and done a lot of the hard stuff against Oldham's massive pack. It was a real captain's knock.
"I'm proud of all of them for the way they got back into it. At 27-0 they could have caved in but they didn't. We got our tails up and when we did we were terrific.
"I feel for the boys. They put everything into that game.
"It hurts when you score more tries and lose - that really hurts."
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