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Match report: York City Knights 18, Halifax 24
York City Knights probably deserved two points from their Championship clash with Halifax.
On another day, they may have eked three. In the end, they had to settle for one, after Fax hooker Sean Penkywicz’s sucker punch with the last play of the game.
A cricket score had looked on the cards after the Knights, beaten 30-10 at Dewsbury last week, fell 12-0 down inside 13 minutes to a side who have hopes of regaining the title they won in 2010.
However, rather than go to pieces as doom-mongers expected, Chris Thorman’s men, while still guilty of too many handling errors, showed much of the bottle that had been lacking at Dewsbury to fight back, both in the arm wrestle and on the scoreboard.
Indeed, a try by club captain Alex Benson with five minutes left seemed to give them a share of the spoils, only for Fax to break the defensive line one last time and on this occasion break the whitewash, too, Penkywicz diving over from dummy-half to win the match, Lee Paterson’s fourth goal, as the hooter sounded, making it 24-18.
The Knights had made one big alteration to their formation, but the biggest change was in the defensive effort as a whole, where first contacts, so poor at Dewsbury, were far more effective. Fax did still break the line on occasion, but the scrambling and cover defence usually made amends.
The change in formation probably played some part in that. Thorman didn’t quite bow down to growing calls from the terraces to get Jordan Tansey out of the number seven shirt, as he still wore that on his back, but he did move him to his preferred position at full-back, such have been his disappointing displays, offensively and defensively, at scrum-half.
Tansey was the most improved performer, dealing with Fax’s kicks, producing excellent cover tackles, and linking in the line with more freedom, although fans could still do with seeing more of his destructive running.
Furthermore, Ben Hellewell, unluckily usurped from full-back, was far more effective than Tansey in the centre channel of the defensive line.
Player-boss Thorman was the only half-back in the line-up but, rather than being weighed down by even more responsibility, he too was much-improved from last week, consistently prodding and probing from first receiver, with Tansey and Hellewell acting as running backs on either side.
The changes did not seem to be working too great when, after a plethora of handling errors by both sides, Tansey fumbled the ball when trying to accelerate from dummy-half, with Fax this time making the most of easy territory to score through Ben Heaton, Paul Handforth’s kick bouncing up kindly. Three minutes later, Heaton finished a handling move for 12-0.
A major rethink also seemed afoot when, not long after, Thorman went down struggling to breathe after a cracking blow to the ribs. The physio signalled for a substitution, with fears Thorman’s day was done.
However, neither Thorman nor his men crumbled.
Indeed, the player-boss, upon finding his bearings, unlocked the visitors’ door when dummying team-mates and opponents alike before slipping Chris Green through. Thorman goaled.
York’s handling remained inconsistent but their defence picked up considerably, notwithstanding Heaton’s early brace, never more so than when Adam Robinson and Paterson combined well, amid covering defence, but saw Paul White grounded by a desperate Tansey tackle.
York then hit back again. Thorman’s kick on the fifth tackle caught Fax unawares and Luke Ambler could only knock the ball down for Jack Lee to score, Thorman equalising with the conversion.
However, just as York needed to see out the half on level terms, Lee fluffed the restart and, from the drop-out, smart work by former Knights half-back Anthony Thackeray saw Dane Manning stroll home.
Another early handing error, this time from Hellewell, helped to put Fax on the front foot after the break.
Indeed, the Knights continued to be their own worst enemy at times, even in periods of ascendancy.
A good kick by Thorman at the end of York’s first real foray forced a dropout, but Benson lost the ball in the first hit-up, while Thorman’s unnecessary pass saw the ball turned over early in their next set.
Later, another superb defensive set ended with Matt Garside intercepting the ball but having it ripped away in the tackle.
The Knights fought on, with another good Thorman kick seeing Penkywicz do well under pressure from Tansey, who had spotted the half-chance.
At the other end, superb cover tackles by Tansey and Dave Sutton – who had another good game to counter the boo-boys – denied Ryan Fieldhouse and Manning respectively.
The effort seemed to pay off when a little pass by Brett Turner, who had an excellent cameo at hooker, saw Benson spin in the tackle and plant the ball under the sticks, Thorman goaling for 18-18.
However, it was a shame much of York’s increasingly – and worryingly – fickle support were not there to see the much-improved display, with only a decent contingent from Halifax swelling a disappointing crowd to almost four figures. And it was a bigger shame Penkywicz denied the home faithful a draw.
York City Knights 18, Halifax 24
Knights: Hellewell 7, Bush 6, Ford 7, Garside 6, Sutton 7, Thorman 8, Tansey 7, Sullivan 7, Lee 7, Green 8, Haughey 6, Smith 7, Aldous 7.
Subs (all used): Turner 7, Houston 7, Benson 7, Broughton 6.
Tries: Green 28; Lee 38; Benson 75.
Conversions: Thorman 28, 38, 75.
Drop goals: None.
Sent off: None.
Halifax: Fieldhouse, White, Paterson, Heaton, Reittie, Handforth, Thackeray, Gannon, Penkywicz, Hesketh, Manning, Robinson, Ashall.
Subs (all used): Bowman, Chandler, S Barlow, Ambler.
Tries: Heaton 10, 13; Manning 40; Penkywicz 80.
Conversions: Paterson 10, 13, 40, 80.
Drop goals: None.
Sent off: None.
Man of the match: Chris Thorman – set up first two tries, despite an earlier knock, as he took on the extra responsibility of being the only out-and-out half-back in the line-up.
Referee: Gareth Hewer (Whitehaven) – good.
Weather: sun shone on a dusty pitch.
Moment of the match: Alex Benson’s equalising try with five minutes on the clock should have garnered a share of the spoils.
Gaffe of the match: it’s hard to single out one of several handling errors as the worst, but Jack Lee’s failure to deal with the restart after his equalising try helped Fax to regain the lead on half-time.
Match rating: two many handling mistakes for both coaches’ liking but, while the poor York of old may have crumbled at 12-0, yesterday they battled gamely and really deserved a draw.