YORK City Knights were 12 seconds from the League One play-off final. Twelve seconds.

They had gone 17-16 ahead nine minutes from the end of a classic contest with a 40-metre drop-goal by Jordan Howden - a player who was suffering a virus and played the last 15 minutes on one leg due to cramp.

Half the team were dead on their feet, yet they summonsed the energy to shut down Swinton dangerman Chris Atkin as he lined up an equaliser. Surely that was that.

No, Atkin shifted the ball to half-back partner Ben White. His drop goal was good. Twelve seconds.

The tie headed into extra time and, with York knackered and ragged, the Lions took advantage. Andy Ackers missed one drop-goal attempt but, after the visitors gave away cheap field position, Atkin didn’t miss the next.

The Lions went wild – for them a final against Keighley for a place back in the Championship.

The Knights fell to their knees, heads in hands, tears in eyes – for them another season in the third tier. Agony.

Boss James Ford had predicted a superb contest – that he was correct will be no consolation. That this game showed rugby league to be a far better spectacle than the other code currently hogging the limelight will be no consolation.

Under a hot sun at Park Lane, it had gone into the 85th minute when Atkin struck.

In the cold light of day, York paid for missing easy conversions – two by Ben Dent and one by Howden, who also missed one from out wide. Four tries, no extras.

For Swinton, the usually deadly Atkin missed two sitters too, pressure getting to everyone. However, he had the composure when it mattered most.

The game began badly for York, Howden dropping the kick-off, but the defence was up to the task in a to-and-fro opening which the hosts edged.

Howden had been named at scrum-half, meaning Ben Dent went to full-back, with Adam Dent and fit-again Tyler Craig on the wings in the absence of first-choice Nev Morrison.

With James Morland and Greg Minikin – in his final fling as a Knight before his soon-to-be-confirmed move to Castleford – at centre, it meant the back line, entirely home-grown, had an average age of 21.

In the pack, Ryan Mallinder started at prop, Micky Learmonth omitted, and Colton Roche was back adding power off the bench.

A handling error by Mallinder kept Swinton in the ascendancy and it was no surprise when they broke the deadlock.

Atkin chipped the line, regathered and found half-back partner Ben White. He kicked again, Adam Dent could not sort his feet out to hack the bobbling ball clear and Atkin pounced.

However, York hit back with their first real attack, after 17 minutes, after Mike Morrison’s high tackle on Jonny Presley.

Howden’s kick was perfect for Ed Smith to make it 4-4.

Swinton, one of the favourites for the title in pre-season, had their strongest line-up out, barring long-term crock Darren Hawkyard.

With only one defeat in 11, to champions Oldham, they began as favourites in this tie too.

A great run by the dogged Shaun Robinson – by far the best winger on the day - set up another chance but the ever-busy Jack Aldous just dealt with the kick.

With everyone positioned for the dropout, referee Chris Campbell awarded the hosts a penalty for an on-report incident in back-play that left Atkin requiring treatment.

The scrum-half dusted himself off to eke his side 6-4 up.

York should have gone ahead after a superb move down the right, Minikin’s flick putting Adam Dent away, but the winger’s inside pass to Presley was called forward, much to their dismay.

However, they did score on the back of two penalties. Kriss Brining, on at hooker, got over three defenders for a trademark try from dummy-half.

York had another half-chance as Presley and Ed Smith took superb advantage of a dogleg, but Minikin was halted two metres short, Swinton then going close in a counter-attack.

An exciting finale to the half came to a head as Ben Dent broke the line and a quick play-the-ball got that dangerous right side going again, Smith superbly sending Minikin home.

Howden took over goalkicking but missed too, leaving it 12-6 at the break, when it should have been 18-8.

It became 16-6 three minutes after the resumption.

Swinton attacked York’s left but a forced pass came out and Presley sprinted 70 metres down the touchline, centre Chris Rothwell in hot pursuit to no avail.

A York finger on the previous pass had been missed by the officials but the Lions were given the next 50-50 decision, and from a fortunate scrum, Connor Dwyer crossed, set up by the excellent Atkin, who converted.

York then had to reshuffle as Ben Dent hobbled off with a torn calf, Howden going to full-back.

A costly mistake by Minikin – oh how that was cruel after the superb season he’s had - immediately saw the new-look defence tested and Atkin’s invention got Mike Butt over to level at 16-16.

The Lions had the momentum. Adam Dent, with so few games behind him, went down with cramp, Howden too.

However, for Swinton, Butt joined Mike Morrison and Tommy Gallagher in the treatment room.

Then, after Howden and Atkins traded drop-goal misses, Howden, on one leg, had the next chance, 40 metres out. Remarkably the ball crept over.

Swinton sought a riposte as the clock ticked down, ever slower.

Fingernails were being bitten to the knuckle.

York were almost there. But White then struck. Twelve damn seconds.

Into extra time and York could not get the position from which to nick the golden point.

And when they failed to put boot to ball near half-way, Presley – superb all game - fumbled a desperation pass as they panicked to make space.

The scene was set for Atkin to win it.


Swinton 18 Knights 17 (after extra time)

Swinton: R Hawkyard, Robinson, Littler, Rothwell, Butt, White, Atkin, Morrison, Ackers, James, Thornley, Lloyd, Lever. Substitutes (all used): Barlow, Austin, Gallagher, Dwyer.

Tries: Atkin 9; Dwyer 47; Butt 60.

Conversions: Atkin 47.

Penalty: Atkin 21.

Drop goals: White 80; Atkin 85.

Knights: B Dent 7, A Dent 7, Minikin 9, Morland 7, Craig 6, Presley 9, Howden 8, Applegarth 9, P Smith 7, Mallinder 7, Tonks 8, E Smith 9, Aldous 9. Subs (all used): Brining 8, Roche 8, Blagbrough 7, B Nicholson 9.

Tries: E Smith 17; Brining 28; Minikin 39; Presley 43.

Conversions: none.

Penalties: none.

Drop goal: Howden 71.

Man of the match: Mark Applegarth - played big minutes and worked strong and tirelessly in the midfield battle which at times the Knights were winning against a high-rated Swinton pack.

Referee: Chris Campbell (Widnes) – had to make a few 50-50 calls but handled a big game very well and generally let the players decide the outcome.

Penalty count: 3-5

Half-time: 6-12

Weather: bright sunshine.

Attendance: 684

Moments of the match: Greg Minikin’s try came from the best move of the match. That he scored on his last appearance for the club prior to a move to Castleford is no consolation for the defeat. Jonny Presley’s interception try was a cracker, too, and Jordan Howden’s drop goal while on one leg had them so close to a play-off final.

Gaffes of the match: Greg Minikin's knock-on - so so unfortunate after the superb season he's had - set the position for Swinton's equalising try prior to the drop-goals finale; playing hot potato with the ball on half-way instead of putting boot to it ultimately cost the Knights their chance of promotion as a fumble - Jonny Presley another undeserving culprit from a difficult pass - gave Swinton easy possession and set the position for the extra-time winner; missing those very kickable conversions helped Swinton to stay in touch.

Gamebreaker: Swinton's drop goals, 12 seconds from the final hooter and then in the fifth minute of extra time.

Match rating: pace, skill, excitement, drama, ecstasy, agony. If this had been a Rugby Union World Cup match, they'd already be making a film about it. Such a shame there had to be a loser.