IT wasn’t the dying seconds but York City Knights endured yet more late agony yesterday – and this time in bizarre circumstances.
Twice in the last four matches they have been denied a crucial Championship win by last-ditch tries, while last week they lost a bonus point as the clock ticked down.
Yesterday, the much-depleted, relegation-threatened outfit beat the odds to gain a point at Halifax, holding the big-spenders to 18-16. However, they were denied a share of the spoils after some curious officiating.
The late drama began when Ben Johnston, a bright spark all afternoon for the Knights, saw an attacking kick blocked, with Rikki Sheriffe picking up the loose ball and sprinting 70 metres to the other end – only to be brought back as referee George Stokes deemed he had been offside.
There were eight minutes left and the Knights had the chance to level the scores, Tom Carr going for the penalty goal.
One touch judge raised his flag to deem it good, the other waved his to call it wide. Stokes had the casting vote and said it missed.
Ironically, the same thing had happened at the other end earlier on with a Lee Paterson conversion – but that time Stokes awarded the two points, which ultimately won the game.
Still, few onlookers had expected such a close contest at kick off. The Knights had shipped 120 points in their last two visits to The Shay, while Fax had racked up 50-odd in five consecutive home games prior to their loss to Featherstone.
The visitors’ hopes had been hit on the eve of the game, too, as Adam Sullivan and Nathan Freer – their biggest and best props on current form – withdrew through injury.
Dougie Flockhart – the winger who has scored six touchdowns in five games, the longest try-scoring run in professional rugby league – was also ruled out due to rugby union commitments.
This saw a return for Nat Browne, who had done little wrong before losing his place through injury.
However, allied to the long-term absences, it left boss Gary Thornton down to the bare bones, so much so they turned up with no 18th man – although that did not explain the whereabouts of Ed Smith.
Thornton had been considering giving the young second-row a rest but it is not clear why he didn’t travel given the circumstances.
Halifax boss Karl Harrison, conversely, had an embarrassment of riches.
Fax face title rivals Leigh on Wednesday but he rested only backs Steve Tyrer and Ryan Fieldhouse – and even then had Rikki Sheriffe and Lee Paterson to come in.
New signing Ben Davies didn’t feature but, just to make life harder for the Knights, Scott Murrell, one of Fax’s standout players this year, was fit to return.
Browne was clearly rusty and his return began badly as he came up with a blooper in the game’s first set, dropping a Murrell kick, with his side only spared as the scoring pass to Ross Divorty – the York-born second-row – was forward.
Respite didn’t last long, though, with Fax ahead on seven minutes, Andy Bracek the recipient of clever play by Paul Handforth, one of several dangermen in the home ranks. Paterson goaled.
The Knights, though, bagged a quick reply following a Jack Lee break. Jack Latus didn’t have the pace to finish it off, while Tom Carr couldn’t go over on the last tackle. But Anthony Thackeray’s sloppiness gifted York possession again, and Lee dug over from close range. Carr converted.
Jonny Presley, more of a livewire here than in previous weeks, then darted through a gap and, halted by full-back Paterson, got the ball to Craig Potter – who was only denied when crash-tackled into an upright.
However, York did go ahead, on 25 minutes, as Jack Latus beat Browne to a smart Johnston grubber.
That good work was ruined, though, as the restart was allowed to bounce and go dead and, from the dropout, Fax duly scored through Craig Ashall, Paterson converting.
Big hits from Joe Pickets, Kriss Brining and Luke Stenchion, as is often their wont, underlined York’s good effort in defence. Prop Stenchion, called up in place of Freer/Sullivan, had one of his best games for the club.
Similarly, diminutive half-backs Presley and Johnston showed they were not afraid to take on the line in the first half – and Johnston did it to great effect two minutes after the break to give York the lead again.
He dummied, ducked and darted through the line and sidestepped the full-back, Carr converting.
York couldn’t cut out the annoying mistakes, however – Sam Latus knocking on in the first tackle after a penalty an example.
A blatant forward pass denied Fax prop Luke Ambler a try, but punishment did come as some fine play overcame desperate scrambling defence, Handforth spotting Sheriffe in acres and sending a kick his way.
Paterson’s conversion was called good – on a split decision – and that’s how the scoring ended.
Jack Latus pulled off a try-saver on Dane Manning down Fax’s right as the below-par hosts upped the tempo, while Wayne Reittie and Browne fluffed opportunities at either end, either side of Carr’s penalty pain.
Browne’s half-chance to win the match came after Sam Scott burst through, but the second-row’s pass bounced off his chest.
Halifax: Paterson, Worrincy, Sheriffe, Heaton, Reittie, Murrell, Thackeray, Ambler, Handforth, Bracek, Manning, Divorty, C Ashall. Subs (all used): Tonks, K Ashall, Adamson, Casey.
Tries: Bracek 7; C Ashall 28; Sheriffe 53.
Conversions: Paterson 7, 28, 53.
Knights: Carr 8, Elliott 7, S Latus 6, J Latus 7, Browne 5, Johnston 8, Presley 7, Potter 7, Lee 8, Aldous 7, S Scott 7, Mallinder 7, Pickets 7. Subs (all used): Brining 7, Lyons 6, Bell 7, Stenchion 8.
Tries: Lee 11; J Latus 25; Johnston 42.
Conversions: Carr 11, 42.
Man of the match: Ben Johnston – took on the line to good effect, bagging a brilliant try too, as he and Jonny Presley prompted, probed and asked more questions from half-back than of late.
Referee: George Stokes (St Helens) – reasonably okay, apart from when he forgot about the ten-metre offside rule.
Weather: torrential downpour ended before kick-off and another in the last quarter.
Moment of the match: Ben Johnston’s solo try early in the second period – a typical half-back effort, dummying, darting and sidestepping through.
Gaffe of the match: twice the touch judges disagreed over whether a goal was good, with one flag up and one down. For Halifax, referee George Stokes decided it was good. For York, and Tom Carr’s 72nd-minute penalty that would have levelled the scores, Stokes said it had missed. There’s a cock-up somewhere in there.
Gamebreaker: Nat Browne’s half-chance to win the game near the end. The winger, back in the side in place of the unavailable Dougie Flockhart, couldn’t take in Sam Scott’s pass when he had a clear run down the touchline. Would the outcome have been different had the in-form Flockhart been playing?
Match rating: quality was up and down but it was good entertainment and York’s efforts were well worthy of a bonus point at least.