GLARING individual errors cost York City Knights the chance of a shock Championship One victory at arch-rivals Hunslet Hawks – and in the end even a bonus point.
The Knights were largely the better side in the second half and probably shaded general play over the 80 minutes.
But that did not translate itself onto the scoreboard as, at key moments, they wasted possession and position with gaffes, and allowed the hosts breathing space with gifted tries, to lose 34-18.
This was never more apparent than in the last quarter.
York had got themselves in a position to win having fought back to 22-18 down after sustaining pressure.
But then a Hunslet attack ended with Paul March chipping to the goalline, and York full-back Danny Wilson, who should have dealt with it, lost the ball as March stole in and touched down.
Minutes later, as York gathered themselves to respond, Nathan Freer, a prop who on this evidence has probably never kicked a ball before, went in at dummy-half on the last tackle as no one else bothered, and promptly kicked the ball out of play.
Hunslet went down the other end and Richard Chapman scored a trademark try from dummy-half after a big gap opened up opened up. Game over.
Elsewhere, Wayne Reittie – making a rare start on the wing as James Haynes withdrew on the morning of the match due to sickness – ruined a decent show against his old club when inexplicably fumbling twice.
Wilson was also guilty of a ridiculous kick when his side were attacking with tackles in hand, while even two-time Player of the Month Jack Lee erred with some decision-making, not attacking down the side York had a man over.
It was always going to be difficult for York, notwithstanding these gaffes. Chris Thorman, substitute prop Brett Waller and Danny Allan, who went in at centre as expected for the crocked Lee Waterman, all returned to the deep end after injury, and the team had to cope with a further late alteration due to Haynes’ illness. They also had to twice reshuffle as neither Allan nor Waller lasted the match.
The silver lining is the fact that, without these bloopers, York could have beaten the title favourites and they can take that knowledge into the run-in and, more importantly, the play-offs.
It had all begun well. Danny Ratcliffe had had a try harshly ruled out for offside from a Thorman kick, before Thorman touched down his own grubber kick, reacting faster than opponents David March and Luke Haigh.
Hunslet’s reply was swift, though, as good offloads created space for Tommy Haughey to feed Waine Pryce, Richard Knight goaling. Haughey had been the scourge of York in the reverse encounter at Huntington Stadium and he and Pryce were always likely to be dangerous down Hunslet’s right – and so it proved with four of their six tries coming down that flank.
That first effort had come after a dubious penalty, and referee Clint Sharrad – who did not endear himself to York fans in the Knights’ defeat at Blackpool – continued to earn their wrath throughout the first half, the penalty count reading 7-0 at the interval.
His calls were crucial when helping to relieve pressure on the hosts and setting field position for Neil Lowe to fire a pass for fellow sub prop Scott Woodcock to blast over.
Another, given for reefing when wise old dog David March seemed happy to lose the ball, then set the position from which Haughey – whom no official had spotted throwing a punch in back play – dug over from close range from dummy-half.
Ironic York cheers rang around when Sharrad awarded a scrum after Hunslet’s next knock-on, and louder cheers followed when, on the back of it, Reittie drove close and Lee, spotting a quarter-chance near to the line, just got over.
York had given as good as they had got in the first half but a bit of brilliance from ex-Knights player-boss March took the Hawks further clear by the break. He broke from his own half and fed Haughey to cross again. David March added the first of his three conversions.
Hunslet: Kain, Pryce, Haughey, Clayton, Oakes, Grimshaw, P March, Sullivan, Haigh, Houston, Dooler, Knight, D March.
Subs (all used): Woodcock, Chapman, Lowe, Wabo.
Tries: Pryce 13; Woodcock 23; Haughey 31, 38; P March 65; Chapman 74.
Conversions: Knight 13, 23; D March 38, 65, 74.
Drop goals: None.
Sent off: None.
Knights: Wilson 5, Reittie 5, Mitchell 6, Allan 6, Lineham 6, Thorman 7, Ratcliffe 7, Freer 6, Lee 7, Benson 6, Ross 7, Duckworth 6, Hardbottle 7.
Subs (all used): Clough 7, Williams 5, Waller 7, Stearman 7.
Tries: Thorman 9; Lee 34; Hardbottle 60.
Conversions: Ratcliffe 9, 34, 60.
Drop goals: None.
Sent off: None.
Man of the match: Jordan Ross – made no mistakes, worked hard as always and also filled in at centre when called upon.
Referee: Clint Sharrad (Manchester) – the home side were 7-0 up on the penalty count at half-time though it became more two-sided after the break.
Penalty count: 11-7.
Weather watch: breezy but okay.
Moment of the match: Chris Thorman marked his return from injury by gathering his own smart grubber kick to give York a ninth-minute lead.
Gaffe of the match: glaring bloopers were not in short supply, and Danny Wilson ruined an enthusiastic display with two of them. One was kicking the ball out on the third tackle with his side attacking. The second was losing a Paul March chip on his own try-line, for March to score and curtail York’s second-half ascendancy.
Game-breaker: if Paul March’s try didn’t end York’s hopes just as they were on top, then Richard Chapman’s try six minutes from time did.
Match rating: not a spectacular match but York, gaffes apart, at least showed they could compete and, at times, outplay, the Championship One leaders.