Match report: York City Knights 40, Hunslet Hawks 0 - Championship One
IT’S fair to say York City Knights are seemingly getting the upper hand over arch-rivals Hunslet.
After four years and nine months without victory over the Hawks, they have now bagged two on the trot in the space of three months, and this 40-0 thrashing was as convincing as it gets when title rivals go head to head.
The sides will have one more encounter in the Championship One regular season, while the meeting that matters, of course, will be the one in the play-offs and quite possibly the grand final – assuming the two of them get there, which Oldham for one will have something to say about.
But while the 28-26 scoreline at John Charles Stadium in March did not do justice to the Knights’ superiority, this result almost certainly did, and it laid down a notable marker for later in the year when the promotion crunch comes.
Gary Thornton's men have not been firing on all cylinders in recent weeks but, following the nightmarish opening half-hour away to Oldham last week, his side have now rattled up 70 points in 130 minutes against the best two other teams in this division - to only six in reply.
Forget the below-par victories over the likes of London Skolars and Hemel, this is the kind of intensity and level of performance that will now be expected when the play-offs come around.
Hunslet, who were without the influential David March due to injury in training, can be expected to lift theirs, and the Roughyeds likewise, so York cannot count chickens.
But if they are allowed to play at this kind of pace - not only by referees who so often turn a blind eye to slwo play-the-balls at this level, but also by their own enthusiasm levels and ability to dominate the ruck like in this match - then the Knights, with this kind of power, purpose, control and flair, should have no-one to fear in the promotion battle.
That will particularly be the case if they can keep hold of Brad Brennan beyond his initial one-month loan. A man-of-the-match contender on his debut last week, he this week showed York's home fans what he brings up top. A big ovation after his first-half stint suggested it hadn't gone unnoticed.
Second-rows Ed Smith and Ryan Mallinder more than countered Hunslet's best two performers on the day - ex-Knights John Oakes and Brooke Broughton - while Joe Pickets was, well, Joe Pickets, and rattled the Hawks as planned early doors on his 2014 bow.
Colton Roche had a decent debut off the bench, too, while Ryan Backhouse twisted through tackles and got out several offloads to keep his side on the front foot.
Behind them, Jonny Presley and Pat Smith were having a field day, in stark contrast to Hunslet's Coyle brothers and ex-Knight Danny Grimshaw. Thomas Coyle was lucky to escape further censure, other than being put on report, for a number of dirty fouls borne of frustration.
Presley was only back in the side as Ben Reynolds moved to full-back in place of the crocked James Haynes, but will now be hard to leave out.
Moreover, Reynolds was everywhere - running at people, creating holes, tidying up plays - and worked so well with the pivots that Haynes, so good earlier this month, may have to wait to get back in the side.
The Knights' superiority was sparked by an unlikely source too.
Teenage centre James Morland was thrown back in for injured Greg Minikin and thrown up against Hunslet's fit-again dangerman Danny Maun.
But when he scythed between Maun and Grimshaw with neither laying a hand on him, this was going to be his York's day. He went on to out-play Maun, too, which is some achievement for a rookie.
Jack Lee scored a trademark try from dummy-half, and Pat Smith's injection of pace was matched only by Presley, as the latter also crossed before half-time.
In between times, Reynolds added a penalty to go with his five conversions - drawing a line under those misses against Oldham.
Hunslet did have chances but each was repelled by excellent defence, notably Presley's second-minute try-saver in the corner on Andy Ballard.
The first two tries of the second half were the probable pick of the bunch.
Ryan Mallinder's, after 57 minutes, followed superb running and handling by Reynolds, Brennan and Presley, and effectively ensured York would win this game.
Ten minutes later, James Ford got a superb ball out the back door to Ben Dent. It was slightly behind him, and space was at a premium, but the winger gathered it in and tiptoed and spun inside the touchline like a ballerina before showing strength and dexterity to touch down.
"We can see you sneaking out" came the catcalls from cheerful Knights fans to visiting supporters.
Reynolds got a deserved try from a smart Pat Smith kick, before Lee rubbed salt in Hawks wounds with his second of the day.
Knights: Reynolds 9, Saltonstall 8, Ford 8, Morland 9, B Dent 8, P Smith 9, Presley 8, Brennan 9, Lee 9, Aldous 8, Mallinder 8, E Smith 9, Pickets 8. Subs (all used): Carter 8, Bell 8, Backhouse 9, Roche 8.
Tries: Morland 4; Lee 19, 74; Presley 36; Mallinder 57; Dent 67; Reynolds 71.
Conversions: Reynolds 4, 19, 36, 71, 74.
Penalty: Reynolds 26.
Drop goal: none.
Hunslet: Grimshaw, Brickwood, Watson, Maun, Ballard, T Coyle, J Coyle, Houston, Hood, Haley, Broughton, Oakes, Mackay. Subs (all used): Tebb, Wilson, Stenchion, Lyons.
Man of the match: toughest call of the day – Pat Smith got the sponsors’ award so, to share around the accolades, Ben Reynolds gets this one. Brad Brennan is among those who can count himself particularly unlucky to miss out.
Referee: Dave Merrick (Castleford) – sometimes slack on offsides but tried to let the sides play the game at pace.
Weather: clear but slippy due to recent rain.
Moment of the match: tries by Jonny Presley, made by Pat Smith’s blink-and-you-miss-it scoot, and Ben Dent, a twinkletoe finish following James Ford’s sleight of hand, had the fans wowing in appreciation, but the pick of the bunch was the one finished by Ryan Mallinder, which showcased several quality facets of rugby league. Ben Reynolds confused the opposition, Brad Brennan bulldozed through them and Jonny Presley had the wherewithal to offer Mallinder the chance. The second-row may have bounced the ball down but, either way, the officials weren’t going to cut short the raucous celebrations.
Gaffe of the match: Austin Bell dropping a straightforward pass on the first tackle after a Hunslet restart was sloppy, but it didn’t matter as the defence was up to the task.
Gamebreaker: the first try after half-time, the cracker scored by Ryan Mallinder on 57 minutes, made sure there was no danger of a Hawks comeback.
Match rating: both sides tried to play fast, with the ref allowing them to, which made for a better game of true pro rugby league than can sometimes be the case in Championship One. Only York played faster, slicker and with more oomph and pazzazz than the Hawks.
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