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Knights, 12, Featherstone Rovers 40
York City Knights full-back Tom Bush crashes over the Featherstone Rovers line in last night’s 40-12 Co-operative Champion-ship defeat at Huntington Stadium
THE writing was on the wall for York City Knights last night as soon as Tangi Ropati scored less than two minutes into his return to action for Featherstone.
The only question was how many Rovers would go on to win by, and whether it would be a record score.
The answers were 40-12, and, obviously, no, the record books weren’t rewritten. In fact, to battling York’s credit, they were not even threatened in a match which, while one-sided, was nowhere near the landslide the pessimists had expected.
The Knights really had been on a hiding to nothing.
Second-bottom with only one win all season – and with a reserves side who went all year without a victory and ended their campaign 24 hours before last night’s match with a 84-18 hammering away to Rovers – York have a list of injuries and absences longer than strapping prop Nathan Freer’s arm. At least said arm was not broken.
Such were their depleted numbers that reserve squadmen Gareth Poutney and Tim Stubbs were called up to the bench for debuts, in a team already littered with inexperience.
Former York ARLC junior Stubbs, when he entered the fray after 36 minutes, became the youngest Knight ever, aged 17 years and 89 days. He is an excellent under-18s player but barely has half a dozen open-age games behind him, yet he let no one down in his two short stints, while Poutney, a threequarter who hails from the Castleford-Featherstone area, didn’t look out of place in his second-half run.
Player-boss Chris Thorman, having had little option other than to promote two unknowns, also had to shuffle his players around and, given injury to dual-reg scrum-half Ollie Olds, find another half-back from somewhere – his eighth play-making partner of term.
In a surprise move, Rhys Clarke, a back-rower and very occasional hooker, was given that role, while Freer, who had returned to York after an aborted spell at Fev earlier this year, was at loose-forward. Both did well considering. Clarke played as if he’d worn the number six shirt before, showed decent kicking nous when forcing a first-half dropout, and got a second-half try. The sponsors’ man-of-the-match award was due reward.
The visitors, of course, are top of the table, looking to retain their Championship crown, and aiming to bounce back “aggressively” according to boss Daryl Powell from their bruising Northern Rail Cup final defeat by Halifax.
Was it a good time to play them given their strenuous efforts and disappointment five days earlier? Maybe, given their second-half sloppiness, but, either way, Powell, displaying squad luxuries Thorman can only dream of, was able to freshen things up by bringing back Bradford loanee Kyle Briggs, who was in at half-back for Andy Kain, along with Ropati and Nathan Chappell.
The latter had scored a quick-fire hat-trick in the reverse fixture earlier in the season to seal victory after York had surprisingly led until 14 minutes from time, and he was twice on the mark again here.
Ropati’s opener, an easy run-in after the ball was swiftly moved right, was followed seven minutes later by a Sam Smeaton touchdown from a clever Kyle Briggs kick.
But, in a pleasant surprise, the Knights deservedly halved the deficit as, following a Chris Thorman 40-20 had given good field position, Tom Bush shaped to go left but cut inside and through a sizeable gap in the visitors’ defence.
Two tries in two minutes, by Dom Maloney and Chappell, both from Matty Dale breaks, the second after a missed tackle by George Elliott left his opponent with four options for the scoring pass, put Rovers clear.
But the floodgates did not yet open, and Bush went within inches of reducing the 24-6 deficit again just before half-time.
Ropati, sidelined since suffering a broken jaw in that horror tackle by Castleford’s Rangi Chase in the Challenge Cup tie on April 14, also scored at the start of the second half. Chappell, too, got his second with a flying finish.
York’s starting 13 had done their utmost to begin the game strongly, but the fear was that once they tired and rotations came into play, Fev would run away with the game.
It didn’t happen, though, and, instead, York again got on the scoreboard.
They kept the ball alive, going back and forth in front of the sticks in a move instigated by Thorman, before Clarke burst through, Thorman goaling.
A fine Elliott tackle denied Ropati a hat-trick by the flag, while big Andy Bostock was held up over the try-line, before Rovers finally added to their tally through Briggs from a Finn kick, Finn kicking his sixth conversion.
But it was York, still battling, who went closest to scoring at the death.
York City Knights 12, Featherstone Rovers 4 0
Knights : Bush 7, Pryce 7, Elliott 6, Garside 7, B Dent 7, Thorman 7, Clarke 7, Sullivan 7, Lee 7, Aldous 6, Davies 7, Esposito 7, Freer 7.
Subs (all used) : Brining 7, Sutton 5, Poutney 6, Stubbs 6.
Tries: Bush 14; Clarke 63.
Conversions : Thorman 14, 63.
Penalties : None.
Drop goals : None.
Feathertone: Hardman, Saxton, Smeaton, Worthington, Ropati, Briggs, Finn, England, Kaye, Dickens, Bostock, Spears, Dale.
Subs used: Bussey, Lockwood, Chappell, Maloney.
Tries : Ropati 2, 43; Smeaton 9; Maloney 27; Chappell 29, 50; Briggs 76.
Conversions : Finn 2, 9, 27, 29, 50, 76.
Penalties : None.
Drop goals: None.
Man of the match : John Davies – another decent showing for the second-row who, unfortunately, has nailed his colours to the Batley mast for next season.
Referee : Gareth Hewer (Whitehaven) – didn’t help York much.
Penalty count : 3-6.
Attendance : 1,015.
Weather : balmy evening.
Moment of the match : Chris Thorman booted a fine 40-20 after 13 minutes, and it was followed by Tom Bush’s try, stepping back inside as the defence parted.
Gaffe of the match : the failure of whoever is in charge of the floodlights to replace broken bulbs.
Gamebreaker : there was little doubt who won win after Tangi Ropati’s second-minute opener for Featherstone, but the floodgates never opened.
Match rating : a more even contest than most York fans had expected, so credit the injury-hit underdogs.