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Barrow Raiders 24, York City Knights 20
BARROW and bookmakers alike probably won’t take York City Knights lightly next time.
Dave Woods’ men had been as long as 16-1 to return from Cumbria with an opening-day Northern Rail Cup group victory, but they came within four points of doing just that.
They were caught out wide by big-spending Barrow’s speed and creativity, but they more than matched their hosts in many areas and, clearly finishing the stronger, they came close to clawing back 12-0 and 24-10 deficits before losing 24-20.
They thus gleaned a bonus losing point for finishing within 12 points of the victors, which is no mean feat against the 2009 Championship champions. But it could have been so much more.
At one point they trailed 7-3 on penalties and, perhaps more cuttingly, they conceded possession cheaply half a dozen times to either lose momentum or gift decent field position.
Without those gaffes, they could have turned the tables on a Raiders side who – assuming the appointment as coach of Great Britain legend turned outspoken pundit Garry Schofield doesn’t backfire – should be fighting for all the silverware below Super League.
Woods rightly had mixed emotions afterwards – satisfaction in doing better than many anticipated, but frustration at not doing as well as possible.
His team selection – moving captain Alex Benson from prop to loose-forward – seemed a good one at the outset as the wind and mud made for heavy going, in which an extra enforcer in the pack, rather than ball-player, would be more beneficial.
There were also debuts for prop Nathan Massey and second-row John Davies, both of whom arrived from Castleford late last week and both of whom, especially the latter, excelled. Mark Barlow, meanwhile, got the nod ahead of Paul Stamp as replacement hooker, and gave an assured performance.
For Barrow, full-back Gary Broadbent and James Coyle were not fit, and Chris Larkin was unavailable, but it was otherwise a strong squad.
York had the strong wind behind them in the first half, though it didn’t help to start with as Barrow’s kick-off blew back to them.
Three more penalties helped the hosts, two successive free-kicks giving the field position from where Mark Gleeson opened the scoring. Centre Liam Harrison – superb throughout – was halted on the try-line and, while it seemed the tackle was complete, he off-loaded for Gleeson to score.
They should have got a second try after a poor pass from Jack Lee at the other end was intercepted, but good tracking back forced an error by Andy Ballard.
Another York error proved more costly. Prop Ben Jones lost the ball in the first tackle in his own half, and Barrow took advantage of space out wide, after broken play, for winger James Nixon to score on his return from a long lay-off.
Former Crusaders prop Jamie Thackray, a one-time York target, was having a storming first stint on debut for the hosts, and was prominent in the build-up. He was kept quiet in the second half, though.
The Knights suffered another big blow when Duane Straugheir left after 25 minutes with an elbow injury, although there was a natural replacement in Lee Waterman.
However, the new boy failed to deal with a high, swirling kick on half-way, right-winger Danny Wilson gave a penalty away for tackling Nixon without the ball, and from the attack that followed, Ned Catic blasted through Jon Presley on the other flank for a third try.
Former Super League half-backs Chris Thorman, with the wind, and Jamie Rooney, without it, had fine kicking games for their respective teams, and York finally benefited from field position gleaned by the former’s boot, when his perfect chip found Wilson to catch the swirling ball out wide and score.
Thorman, outshining Rooney, then booted a 40-20, and Ryan Esders used brute strength to get through a little gap to reach the whitewash. Thorman’s goal cut the deficit to 12-10 at the break.
That would have boosted the visitors’ confidence, but they had a half against the strong coast wind to come, and they fell further behind as Nixon got his second try following a fine break from Harrison, and, from a penalty, Martin Ostler finished a swift attack. Rooney added the extras.
Barrow looked better but York were also letting themselves down. James Haynes – just before going off injured to be replaced at full-back by Wilson, himself with a bandage over stitches in a head wound – knocked on a drop-out as they again lost momentum.
Later, Presley, Benson and Wilson all lost possession close to Barrow’s sticks.
But still York came back strongly.
Waterman had a try ruled out for offside. Then, after Presley was fouled when trying to regather his own little kick, Thorman sent a looping pass out wide and Dave Sutton cut inside to finish well. Thorman goaled.
York’s strong finale was aided by penalties as Barrow tired.
Another fumble by Jones again wasted the mounting pressure but, with a minute to go, Matt Garside superbly sent in Presley to add to home nerves.
Another five minutes could have seen the Knights triumph but the final hooter saved Barrow’s – and bookmakers’ – blushes.
Barrow Raiders 24, York City Knights 20
Barrow: Ballard, Dixon, Catic, Harrison, Nixon, Rooney, Campbell, Thackray, Gleeson, James, Ostler, Fletcher, Luisi.
Subs (all used): Mossop, McDermott, Knowles, Nicholson.
Tries: Gleeson 9; Nixon 19, 44; Catic 30; Ostler 55.
Conversions: Rooney 44, 55.
Knights: Haynes 6, Wilson 7, Straugheir 6, Garside 6, Sutton 6, Thorman 8, Presley 7, Jones 5, Lee 7, Massey 8, Davies 8, Esders 7, Benson 6.
Subs (all used): Stearman 6, Smith 6, Barlow 7, Waterman 6.
Tries: Wilson 35; Esders 40; Sutton 70; Presley 79.
Conversions: Thorman 40, 70.
Man of the match: John Davies – the new second-row pipped Chris Thorman to the accolade after an excellent debut, continuing the fine pre-season form he showed against the Knights for parent club Castleford.
Referee: Richard Silverwood (Dewsbury) – apart from waving play-on after Barrow had blatantly knocked-on a restart, he did okay.
Penalty count: 7-8.
Weather: greasy ball, gluey pitch and down-field gale.
Moment of the match: it proved to be only a consolation, but the way Matt Garside got on the end of a Chris Thorman chip and, after juggling the ball, fired a scoring pass to Jonny Presley before being grounded by the covering Andy Ballard, was superb.
Gaffe of the match: Ben Jones lost the ball on the first tackle in his own half – albeit following a crunching tackle – and Barrow took advantage to score their second try. He was not the only culprit, though.
Match rating: the conditions made for heavy going but both sides provided decent quality and a fine game, the hard-working Knights, for their part, making a mockery of 16-1 odds.