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Match report: Doncaster 18, York City Knights 29
IT was a satisfactory opening day of the season for York City Knights.
Hosts Doncaster might be from the division below but were expected to offer a decent challenge, especially with the likes of former Hull star Paul Cooke pulling the strings.
But the Knights – with eight players making competitive debuts, including Adam Sullivan on his return from a two-year spell at Hunslet – gleaned superiority in the opening exchanges and effectively won the Northern Rail Cup spoils before half-time.
They were pretty ruthless, too, in the first period, Chris Thorman kicking a 35-metre drop-goal just before the hooter to eke up an already comfortable lead to 25-6 at the break.
However, Doncaster wasted some opportunities after the interval and Championship opposition might not be so profligate when the league campaign starts.
The hosts also got two quick tries to reduce the gap in the final quarter and win the second half, again giving York’s new player-coach, Thorman, notice that turning pre-season positives into long-term success will be far from straightforward.
Still, Dave Woods’ Knights team of 2011 won only twice away from home so Thorman is already half-way to equalling that tally, the 29-18 final scoreline being a commendable victory which can be built on – hopefully starting on Thursday night when ambitious Swinton visit Huntington Stadium.
York went ahead at the Keepmoat Stadium as Ed Smith’s off-the-cuff kick on the last tackle – he’d found himself in no-man’s land on the last tackle – was fumbled towards his own line by Dean Colton, with James Ford pouncing.
Then, after more prodding and probing left and right, a Thorman grubber gave Jack Lee a try.
York stayed in control, centres Ford and Matt Garside regularly making ground on the fringes, and Doncaster had to wait until midway through the half for their first foray.
When that happened, on the back of two quick penalties, Ford intercepted and raced 90 metres to the other end for a second try on his inaugural outing as captain.
The Dons did score on their next attack, ten minutes later. Ben Hellewell spilled a Cooke bomb 30 metres out, and, although scrambling defence held winger Colton out, the back line remained stretched until Hull dual-registered centre Liam Cunningham, who had been an injury doubt, crossed on the left. Cooke goaled.
Hellewell had otherwise looked excellent at full-back. Player-boss Thorman had decided against playing James Haynes due to his sciatic nerve problem, and dual-registered Hellewell was therefore given first dabs in the number one shirt, with rival Tom Bush a substitute.
Hellewell’s Warrington club-mate, Brooke Broughton, was also on the bench as a sub prop alongside club captain Alex Benson, as ex-Hunslet duo Adam Sullivan and James Houston started up front in Paul King’s absence – laying good foundations too.
King, like Haynes, had wanted to play but Thorman refused to risk further damage to the ex-Hull prop’s broken rib suffered in pre-season.
Tommy Haughey was the other sub, with young-gun Smith given the nod to start in the second row as he aims for a regular spot after last year’s breakthrough season – doing those hopes no harm either.
Haughey’s first involvement of note after coming on for Jack Lee was a sublime offload that gave Rhys Clarke, who had switched from second-row to hooker in Lee’s stead, an easy finish.
Thorman added the drop-goal to his four first-half conversions.
Former Knights favourite Lee Waterman, after four tries in Doncaster’s opening win at Gateshead on Wednesday night, was kept quiet yesterday, a minor set-to with old team-mate Ford his only act of note.
Also in the Dons ranks were Mark Castle, the Fryston prop who had a brief spell at York last Easter and yesterday showed he could do damage at Championships level with his juggernaut style.
One-time Knight Carl Hughes was also involved, though former Knights prop Dean O’Loughlin, back in the game after a spell in pro boxing, was omitted.
They nearly got a try from a kick early in the second half and wasted another great chance when they had men over on the right.
But York showed the difference in quality when getting the first try of the half. Garside expertly caught Jordan Tansey’s chip and, although he was brought to his knees, a smart offload gave Waine Pryce a walk-in try.
The Knights were caught napping as the pacy Cunningham scored from a quick 20-metre restart, and again when an offload opened a huge gap for Mike Butterfield to cross, Cooke goaling both times.
But they saw the game out to claim the spoils.
Doncaster: Butterfield, Colton, Cunningham, Waterman, Sanderson, Cooke, Fawcett, Bibb, Emmett, Castle, Robinson, Lawton, Hughes.
Subs (all used): Kesik, Welsh, Burnett, Crowther.
Tries: Cunningham 32, 64; Butterfield 69.
Conversions: Cooke 32, 64, 69.
Drop goals: None.
Sent off: None.
Knights: Hellewell 8, Pryce 8, Ford 8, Garside 8, Sutton 6, Thorman 7, Tansey 6, Sullivan 7, Lee 7, Houston 7, Clarke 7, Smith 7, Aldous 7.
Subs (all used): Bush 6, Benson 6, Haughey 7, Broughton 6.
Tries: Ford 9, 21; Lee 12; Clarke 37; Pryce 54.
Conversions: Thorman 9, 12, 21, 37.
Drop goals: Thorman 40.
Sent off: None.
Man of the match: Matt Garside – looked dangerous whenever he had the ball and pipped two-try fellow centre James Ford to the award.
Referee: Ronnie Laughton (Barnsley) – not too bad.
Penalty count: 6-6.
Weather: sunny but very cold.
Moment of the match: try-making offloads from Tommy Haughey and Matt Garside were out of the top drawer, but James Ford’s 90-metre interception effort was the highlight.
Gaffe of the match: quick 20-metre restarts can be dangerous when referees allow them, and the Knights were caught on their heels, midway through an iffy second-half show, as Liam Cunningham streaked home.
Gamebreaker: getting the first try of the second half was probably important.
Match rating: excellent first half for York although the second period brought the coaching staff food for thought.
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