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Match report: York City Knights 26, Hunslet Hawks 28
York City Knights player-boss Chris Thorman fails with a late conversion attempt that would have earned his side a draw with Hunslet
York City Knights fans will be glad it’s all over. This 2012 season has, frankly, been rubbish. And there wasn’t even a happy ending, hard as they might try.
At one point, it looked like they might just pull off an unlikely comeback from 22-4 down in this “Wooden Spoon Grand Final” – but arch-rivals Hunslet, fielding nine ex-Knights, held on to win 28-26.
It was unfortunate, therefore, the Knights could not finish not only the season but also player-coach Chris Thorman’s illustrious playing career in more fitting fashion. Second-bottom, cast adrift from the rest of the Championship, is bad enough. But last? Nah, he didn’t deserve that.
The former Super League star – who has given three years to the Huntington Stadium club as inspirational player, assistant-coach, community development officer, student mentor, and, over the last 12 months, player-boss – has regularly shown he can still cut it on the pitch (often as the team’s only half-back), even if he does now hang up his boots to take on an assistant role at Huddersfield.
But the rest of his squad, beset by injuries, dual-registration departures and the need to throw brave novices into the deep end, have shown they cannot – not yet anyway – especially with club chiefs unwilling to spend on strengthening when there was no threat of relegation due to the league restructuring.
How ironic it was, therefore, that it was Thorman who missed the touchline conversion that would have drawn his side level with five minutes left in which to get a winner.
It wasn’t hard to see why these two sides, both hit by injury hoodoos, were stuck at the bottom of the division, so far behind everyone else.
Both showed how they can at times trouble teams in this tier and both had performers who, like Thorman, were deserving of more. But both showed why they had only one win each before this game. York were poor in the first half, Hunslet in the second. Both made too many unforced errors, and lacked the consistent intensity, power, pace and skill levels found higher up the table.
It nevertheless still made for an entertaining encounter and quite a rip-roaring finale – albeit with a sad ending befitting of York’s season as a whole.
Hopefully Thorman got a better send-off afterwards when, after months of toil and trouble, he could finally let his hair down and, to coin a phrase used by someone who will remain anonymous, “drink his body weight in booze”.
Yesterday’s match had started well for York, but early pressure was wasted when Matt Garside opted to kick on the second tackle close to the visitors’ line.
Possession was lost, as was position thanks to a penalty, and Hunslet broke through with full-back, Stuart Kain running home.
Luck helped the Hawks to increase their lead. The ball went to ground but referee Gareth Hewer deemed it had gone backwards and, with defenders confused and out of position, half-back Luke Helliwell darted through and gave Steve Lewis – a one-time winger with York and now a prop for the Hawks – the try.
The game was then beset by farce after Hewer came across a hole in the pitch which had not been spotted by match commissioner John Glover before kick off.
It’s not the first time this Huntington Stadium surface has been a source of embarrassment.
The fact it took 15 minutes for someone to get a bucket of soil as players warmed down and up again added to the sense of slapstick.
The break probably did York good as it meant they could delay bringing 17-year-old props Tim Stubbs and Liam Ellis into the fray, and because they soon hit back on the scoreboard, Tom Bush superbly weaving from acting-half and timing his pass to send George Elliott speeding in.
Elliott, the former Leeds threequarter, had been handed the scrum-half shirt to become the tenth – tenth! – half-back partner for Thorman this season, although he played more as a “running back” with Thorman again the only playmaker.
His high tackle, though, gave Hunslet a penalty from which David March sneakily got Liam Welham to the line for a 16-4 half-time lead.
It would have been worse for York too, but for Hawks profligacy and superb last-man defending by full-back Bush.
He had earlier got his angles right to force Lee Mapals into a sloppy pass after the winger had broken down centre-field with men in support, and he later read Welham’s dummy to sub winger Dennis Tuffour and superbly hauled him down.
Welham made no mistake 30 seconds into the second half, though, finishing a superb break by John Oakes – who has beefed up immensely since his York days.
The rest of the half largely belonged to York as, led by rampaging prop Adam Sullivan, backed up by some excellent work by sub Dario Esposito, and with some to-hell-with-it-all rugby, they fought back.
Esposito and Jack Lee created a try for Waine Pryce and, although Tuffour made it 22-10 after Gareth Poutney was laid out when running back a kick, Poutney more than made amends.
Clever footwork got him a try and, after Lee crashed in, he got his second when superbly taking a Thorman cross-field kick to the corner.
In between times, Helliwell, with three conversions behind him, had eked up Hunslet’s lead with a penalty conceded by Esposito, meaning York were still two points behind.
Thorman, with three conversions behind him, could not goal this one though, and nothing more came from a frantic finale.
Knights: Bush 8, Pryce 6, Sutton 6, Garside 7, Poutney 7, Thorman 6, Elliott 7, Sullivan 8, Lee 6, Aldous 6, Davies 7, E Smith 6, Freer 7. Subs (all used): Brining 6, Ellis 6, Stubbs 6, Esposito 7.
Tries: Elliott 24; Pryce 49; Poutney 60, 75; Lee 66.
Conversions: Thorman 49, 60, 66.
Hunslet: Kain, Mapals, Nathaniel, Welham, Brickwood, Helliwell, Karalius, Menzies, Haigh, Lewis, Clayton, Oakes, March. Subs used: McLocklan, Tuffour, Yates, Benjafield.
Tries: Kain 4; Lewis 16; Welham 32, 41; Tuffour 55.
Conversions: Helliwell 4, 16, 41 Penalties: Helliwell 72.
Man of the match: Adam Sullivan – gave his all against his former club in a storming second half, edging the accolade from Tom Bush, who was superb at the back in the first.
Referee: Gareth Hewer (Whitehaven) – okay, with some assistance from his touch judges.
Penalty count: 8-4.
Weather: warm – almost as if summer had arrived.
Moment of the match: young Gareth Poutney, having already made up for losing the ball in the build-up to Hunslet’s last try by side-stepping in himself, leapt quite stunningly to pluck Chris Thorman’s long cross-field kick out of the air and touch it down to give Knights late hope.
Gaffe of the match: the failure by match commissioner John Glover to spot the hole in the pitch, leading to the 15-minute delay in play.
Gamebreaker: Thorman, having earlier kicked a touchline conversion, was unable to repeat the feat late on to draw his side level.
Match rating: it wasn’t hard to tell these two sides were bottom of the Championship but they served up some entertaining stuff – unfortunately without the happy ending for the retiring Thorman.