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York City Knights 34, Castleford Tigers 14 - Pre-season friendly
CHRIS THORMAN may have declared his contentment with how York City Knights were shaping up but yesterday’s final friendly brought him more headaches than he’d hoped.
The 34-14 victory over a Castleford XIII – which led to the Knights regaining the Paul Higgins Memorial Trophy – was pleasing enough.
The Knights racked up a 22-0 half-time lead and, although personnel changes contributed to a messier second half, Thorman’s charges withstood a Cas comeback to seal a second pre-season win in a four-match programme.
In fact, the first 40 minutes was the most solid the Knights have played in the warm-up games, which is nice timing given the next match is the Northern Rail Cup opener at home to Swinton on February 12.
However, the early departure of full-back James Haynes to injury is a worry, as is the fact prop Adam Sullivan had to get a deep laceration stitched up at hospital.
Haynes’ exit came after a controversial incident, too, with only James Grehan, Castleford’s new signing, knowing his level of culpability.
Haynes had stepped inside him at pace but the Aussie stuck out a leg in trying to effect a tackle and the sound of shin-bone on shin-bone, accidental or otherwise, was audible at the back of the Main Stand.
Tom Bush, who has been battling with Haynes for the number one shirt, might be the one to benefit should Haynes be ruled out against Swinton, although he watched from the stands yesterday as dual-reg Warrington utility back Ben Hellewell gave a decent show in Haynes’s stead to put himself in the mix, too.
Meanwhile, Sullivan’s cut is in an awkward place, inside a knee, and, with Paul King already an injury doubt for the competitive opener due to his rib injury, Thorman could be calling on second-string props to feature in his first proper match as a head coach.
In that regard, big Adam Howard, the “dreadlocked destroyer”, might be an outside bet to fill a void, after catching the eye again yesterday.
He was caught napping defensively at least once at marker and he remains a work in progress for York’s coaching staff. Also, he might not have the athleticism that Thorman has called for in his team. However, he appears monstrously strong when ploughing down the middle and the fact he took four men to ground him on one occasion created space for an Alex Benson try.
Jack Stearman’s chances of filling a void seem slimmer, however.
The Scotland international had been expected to return from his lengthy injury yesterday but again watched from the stands and, with no reserve side this year, he may need to go on dual-registration to a National Conference club to find match fitness.
Thorman had said his line-up yesterday was not necessarily an indication of his first-choice team for the Swinton game but the starting 13 might bear more than a passing resemblance to it, barring injuries.
The three main pivots, Jack Lee, Jordan Tansey and particularly Thorman before his half-time withdrawal, showed up well, while substitute half-back Lee Williams likewise suggested, in the second 40 minutes, that York’s missing out on signing Danny Grimshaw might not be too keenly felt.
Thorman opened the scoring with a show, go and a reach for the line and, after Haynes’ exit, also set up the second try, delaying the pass to give winger Dave Sutton enough space to cross.
It became 22-0 as Benson had an easy finish while Hellewell gave James Ford a scoring pass. Thorman kicked three goals.
Cas prop Nathan Massey, a former dual-reg player at York, was held up over the line before Grehan opened the second-half scoring from a pass by lively scrum-half Ben Johnston – who was later stretchered off with a leg injury.
York hit back as Matt Garside caught Tansey’s bomb and expertly got it out to Waine Pryce to score against his former club.
Cas, with John Davies, a successful loanee at York last season, and Jordan Thompson, a not-so-successful loanee, prominent in largely an under-20s squad, threatened a comeback as York deployed all seven substitutes. Thompson crashed in and Rich Lipori touched down Davies’ bobbling kicked which Sutton failed to gather in, Ben Reynoulds goaling.
However, the Knights got a foothold back in the game and extended the lead as Williams’ brilliant cut-out pass saw Sutton finish well on the touchline, while James Houston did superbly to put sub hooker John Gay home.
Knights: Haynes, Pryce, Ford, Elliott, Sutton, Thorman, Tansey, Sullivan, Lee, Houston, Clarke, E Smith, Aldous.
Subs (all used): Gay, Hellewell, Broughton, Howard, Williams, Garside, Benson.
Tries: Thorman 12; Sutton 19, 67; Benson 32; Ford 38; Pryce 49; Gay 80.
Goals: Thorman 3/4; Hellewell 0/2; Tansey 0/1.
Castleford: Clare, Lipori, Wilson, Grehan, Atkinson, Carroll, Johnston, Massey, Canterbury, Walker, J Thompson, Siddons, Davies.
Subs (all used): Reynoulds, Fleming, Lloyd, Holmes, Orange, Richards, C Thompson, J Smith.
Tries: Grehan 45; Thompson 55; Lipori 58.
Goals: Reynoulds 1/3.
Referee: Greg Dolan (Dewsbury).