MUCH of the pre-match hype was about which of these teams was "hardest". Somebody should have told Joe Pickets-O'Donnell it was also about who was best.

Doncaster's former York City Knights enforcer may have looked hard with his late challenges – and they were certainly felt by those on the receiving end – but the penalties and yellow card they garnered seemed to disrupt his own team more, while the Knights showed their mettle in other ways – not least on the scoreboard, their 46-16 win being another notable scalp so far this term.

'Hardestgate' had begun when Doncaster CEO Carl Hall claimed that York City Knights boss James Ford tells his pack they are the "hardest in the league". Ford, comically, said he hadn't discussed who's hardest since being "in Year 9 at Sherburn High".

The serious point of it all was that coaches on both sides – Ford and ex-Knights boss Gary Thornton at Donny – knew dominating centre-field would be important as the two teams sought an upper hand in the Kingstone Press League One competition.

York got that upper hand.

They also didn't have to sink to foul play to show how hard they were, Pickets-O'Donnell taking those pre-match jibes too much to heart.

Late shots on Danny Nicklas, Jonny Presley and Richard Wilkinson – the former leaving Nicklas with blood gushing from his head, and the latter two inside 30 second-half seconds – earned only one yellow card, and the back-rower still avoided a red when he kicked out at Harry Carter off the ball, Thornton instead hauling him off.

By that point, the game was gone, Nicklas having epitomised proper hardness when returning for the second half bandaged up after stitches and giving the kind of display that would make Doncaster wonder why they got rid of him last year.

Talking of which, there was so much personal pride at stake here that the match didn't need Hardestgate to stoke fires further.

There were five in the Knights line-up who were at Donny last year and four of them scored, all capping excellent displays.

It was only disappointment, meanwhile, for Thornton, who was controversially axed by York in 2014 and replaced by Ford after leading them to the title but failing in the promotion play-offs.

Still, both coaches will know that prizes aren't handed out at Easter and, given the injuries currently in the Donny camp, Thornton's team will surely be stronger come the business end of term.

Donny, having been asked for a "reaction" following their Challenge Cup defeat last week, began with urgency in every hit-up – but their determination was soon misplaced.

They spilled the ball on halfway, then a penalty for reefing gave York further territory and a simple move right to left created a gap for Brad Hey to cross.

Nicklas, so off-target with his goalkicking this term, sent this one over from the touchline.

Home errors continued and York loose-forward Mike Emmett – another of their ex-Dons – nipped in at half-back and twisted over the line.

Momentum, however, soon shifted. Donny were immediately handed a set in the red zone after a rare Jack Aldous error, then novice ref Callum Straw controversially penalised a strong Ryan Mallinder tackle on Jordie Hedges to give them another.

Matty Welham duly scored out wide after defenders had been dragged in.

Amid more debatable refereeing calls, Pickets-O'Donnell went unpunished for his shot on Nicklas after the scrum-half had kicked upfield.

Another saw York's James Morland penalised when stripping the ball one-on-one and, from the penalty, winger Louis Sheriff scored out wide, dual-reg Hull teenager Dean Reece converting with a curling effort.

York replied quickly after Doncaster transgressed again, Ed Smith latching on to Presley's pinpoint grubber.

Then, as they trapped Donny back, Wilkinson – who had worked overtime from full-back against his former club – dummied through to give his new side breathing space.

With Nicklas off for stitches, winger Brett Turner was given extra duties but missed two kickable conversions – York's goalkicking woes continuing.

York upped their lead nine minutes into the second half with a Kriss Brining special from dummy-half.

It got worse for the Dons as Makali Aizue was penalised for a shoulder charge, Mason Tonks was sin-binned for dissent and on-loan Jordan Crowther bagged a first York try.

Pickets-O'Donnell was at it again with quick-fire off-the-ball hits on Presley and Wilkinson, the officials belatedly showing yellow as both York players were being treated.

Two men up, York stretched their hosts this way and that, before big Brett Waller opted to ignore a 20-man overlap to simply crash through; a fourth ex-Don on the scoresheet.

Then Nicklas got over as well, finding his shooting boots as well with four consecutive conversions.

Prop Russ Spiers was the only ex-Don not to score but he very much got in on the act with a wonderful, almost showboating run, to set up Crowther's second.

Donny ended the game with 12 men as Brad Foster departed injured with no replacements left but they had the last word on the hooter, Aizue's power taking him home, Dean converting well.


Doncaster 16 Knights 46

Doncaster: Dean, Sheriff, L Welham, Cook, M Welham, Tyson-Wilson, Hedges, Nicholson, Frankland, Aizue, M Tonks, Foster, Pickets-O’Donnell. Subs (all used): Cross, Scott, Braham, Walton.

Tries: M Welham 14; Sheriff 24; Aizue 80. Conversions: Dean 24, 80.

Sin-binned: M Tonks 52; Pickets 58.

Knights: Wilkinson 8, Turner 7, Morland 7, Hey 7, Buchanan 7, Presley 8, Nicklas 8, Waller 8, Carter 8, Aldous 8, Mallinder 7, E Smith 7, Emmett 8. Subs (all used): Brining 8, Applegarth 7, Spiers 8, Crowther 7.

Tries: Hey 3; Emmett 10; E Smith 28; Wilkinson 35; Brining 48; Crowther 52, 74; Waller 60; Nicklas 67. Conversions: Nicklas 3, 49, 53, 60, 67.

Man of the match: Richard Wilkinson – after passing a late fitness test he worked his socks off at full-back against his former club, possibly too hard at times with plentiful carries, and was rewarded before half-time as he did what he had been threatening to do all day and dummied through to the line.

Referee: Callum Straw (Wakefield) – inexperienced and unconvincing but it wasn’t an easy game for him. How former York enforcer Joe Pickets-O’Donnell got away with only a yellow card is anyone’s guess.

Penalty count: 9-12

Weather: sunny.

Half-time: 10-18

Attendance: 946

Moment of the match: tries by Mike Emmett and Richard Wilkinson against their former club capped performances full of controlled determination, but the pick was Kriss Brining’s remarkable effort from dummy-half – handing off his marker to such an extent that the defender got in the way of other potential tacklers.

Gaffe of the match: Knights fans know all about Joe Pickets-O’Donnell (formerly Joe Pickets), the second-row enforcer in his time at Huntington Stadium. Whether or not he was given a specific job to enforce to a particular level is beside the point as he could not stop himself crossing the line – more than once. A high late hit on Danny Nicklas left the scrum-half with blood pouring from his head, late hits on Jonny Presley and Richard Wilkinson inside a minute earned a yellow card, and kicking out at Harry Carter off the ball saw him finally hauled off by boss Gary Thornton, probably before he was sent off. While Pickets is pretty hard, the officials could have been stronger.

Gamebreaker: Two Doncaster yellow cards and three York tries in the third quarter took the Knights 38-10 clear and tired out the home team.

Match rating: there was lots going on – and you’ve got to be happy if you’re a York fan. That’s three wins in three this season against teams tipped to be promotion rivals.