St Helens 46, York City Knights 6

YORK City Knights boss James Ford had a few aims from the Challenge Cup sixth-round trip to mighty St Helens – to earn respect of the Super League champions and allow the travelling fans to feel proud again.

The scoreline, he had intimated on the eve of the game, was insignificant, with all but the most optimistic of the York faithful expecting a heavy outcome.

Of more importance on a night like this was the desire to play a flamboyant brand of rugby league and entertain the crowd.

Early on, his side were probably too keen to do that, an over-urgency to play meaning they took bad options and coughed up possession as a result.

Moreover, as expected, Saints’ extra size, strength and speed – courtesy of that full-time training, of course – meant York didn’t often get the ball in the right areas in order to put many plays on.

However, the part-timers not only settled but they bravely persisted with those entertaining tactics and ultimately Ford achieved all his aims – and much more courtesy of Tyler Craig’s richly deserved late try.

The final score of 46-6 also meant York ended very much as moral victors.

York, do not forget, were the lowest-ranked team – the only side from League One - left in the competition, and they were away to the Super League champions. The result was very much above par for such encounters.

Okay, Saints were missing some crocked superstars and didn’t often get out of second gear, but the Knights too were without several first-teamers, such as Lee Waterman, Kriss Brining, Nev Morrison and skipper James Haynes, and their off-field strife has, of course, hampered them all year.

It’s also not every week they will come up against the likes of Tommy Makinson, Adam Swift, Travis Burns, Jon Wilkin, Kyle Amor and Mose Masoe.

It was exactly a decade since York last met the Merseyside giants, and the abiding memory of that tie was one of pride.

Mick Cook’s men lost 62-0 but the away fans drowned out the home support throughout the night, with a constant, unflinching “York and proud of it” chant.

The numbers following the Knights have waned since those heady days, especially recently with the community stadium situation leaving many disillusioned if not angry.

But some of that pride returned here, as a few bus-loads put all that upset to one side to dodge the Friday evening M62 traffic and back their boys again against the English champions. The try at the end was met with rapturous celebration from them, and loud applause from the home support too.

It had looked ominous from the kick-off, as Ben Dent appeared in two minds about passing to Jack Aldous, with the ball duly going to ground.

In the next set, Harry Carter’s pass to Ed Smith was forward.

Saints were thus handed two sets in the red zone and, from the second, Adam Swift crossed in the corner.

Barring one good handling move to gain ground through Greg Minikin and Tyler Craig down the right, York were pinned in their own half, Tommy Makinson sliding in to get the second try on 12 minutes after a good offload and smart kick.

However, the Knights by now had settled and their defensive structures looked good. In fact, Ford may have spoken about his desire to attack – and they did make half a dozen line breaks - but his team’s defence, in its eagerness, discipline and formation, earned equal if not more plaudits throughout the game.

It took 18 minutes and a cracking bit of football skill from Makinson for the next score to arrive. The winger raced onto a chip and controlled it perfectly with his right boot to put it in-goal and touch it down.

Left-winger Swift soon got his second, too, and, after the unlucky Jonny Presley slipped on the sodden turf just as he was about to accept a pass, Saints got their fifth try, Mark Percival arcing in direct from the scrum.

Still, all five tries were scored out wide and only one was converted, by Makinson, making for a 22-0 half-time score.

York went closest after half-time. Ed Smith superbly sent Ben Dent away. He was hauled down 20 metres short, after which Jonny Presley’s chip to the right corner just evaded the diving Craig.

However, Saints upped their lead when Jon Wilkin’s kick bounced out of Adam Dent’s hands and Makinson completed his hat-trick.

York were dealt a cruel blow five minutes later.

More excellent work by Ed Smith, Presley and Minikin ended with the latter halted inches short – even home fans booed as referee Chris Leatherbarrow awarded a hand-over.

Saints quickly streaked up the other end for Makinson to cross again and add his third goal.

Percival had a try ruled out but Mark Flanagan increased the lead to 40-0 on 67 minutes, and Swift completed his treble six minutes from time, Lewis Charnock goaling both.

However, then came York’s moment.

Saints let the restart go out. From the scrum, Presley combined well with Ed Smith, who superbly gave Craig a half chance tight to the touchline.

The winger got over – and the celebrations erupted on and off the pitch.

Ben Dent, back on the field after earlier concussion, converted from the touchline.

York fans were delirious and there was still time for some basketball-type handling in the rain to give further credence to Ford’s pre-match promises.


Match facts

St Helens: McDonnell, Makinson, Percival, Fleming, Swift, Burns, Wilkin, Masoe, Charnock, Richards, McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Flanagan, Jones. Subs (all used): Amor, Savelio, Davies, Knowles.

Tries: Swift 3, 35, 74; Makinson 12, 30, 52, 57; Percival 40; Flanagan 67.

Conversions: Makinson 35, 52, 57; Charnock 67, 74.

Penalties: none.

Sent off: none.

Sin-binned: none.

Knights: B Dent 8, A Dent 6, Cunningham 6, Minikin 9, Craig 8, Presley 8, P Smith 8, Applegarth 8, Carter 7, Aldous 7, Tonks 8, E Smith 9, Roche 7. Subs (all used): Mallinder 7, Pickles 6, Nicholson 6, Riley 7.

Tries: Craig 77.

Conversions: B Dent 77.

Penalties: none.

Sent off: none.

Sin-binned: none.


Man of the match: Ed Smith – the second-row earned plaudits aplenty from the St Helens-based media, including legendary commentator Ray French.


Referee: Chris Leatherbarrow (St Helens) – not sure why a ref from St Helens was reffing a St Helens match, but he was pleasantly anonymous.

Penalty count: 2-3.

Half-time: 22-0.

Weather: wet, rainy and slippy.

Attendance: 3,241.

Moment of the match: it looked certain that York would be nilled but, with the clock ticking down, Ed Smith’s superb slipped pass under pressure gave Tyler Craig a half-chance and the winger crashed beyond two defenders to send the travelling army wild. Ben Dent goaled from the touchline to cap the moment.

Gaffe of the match: the ball turned into a bar of soap when Adam Dent tried to take in a Jon Wilkin kick to the corner, and it squirmed out of his grasp to hand Tommy Makinson his hat-trick try.

Gamebreaker: The first two tries probably killed what tiny real hopes York had but anything below 60 or 70 points could have been seen as a moral victory for the Knights and their excellent defence throughout meant they left with heads high.

Match rating: these ties can often be one-sided and dull and, while it looked that way on the scoreboard, it was pretty entertaining fare for both sets of fans – not least when York got their reward late on through Tyler Craig’s try.