YORK City Knights stayed firmly in the play-off frame in the Betfred Championship after disposing of basement boys Rochdale Hornets in clinical fashion.

James Ford’s team looked a cut above their visitors from minute one and, after building a 26-0 half-time lead without looking particularly troubled, they went on to win 60-0, finishing with an entertaining flourish as recalled winger Perry Whiteley completed a classy hat-trick – all three of his efforts being assisted by fit-again crowd-pleaser Junior Vaivai.

Indeed, most of York’s 11 tries in all were easy on the eye, man-of-the-match Connor Robinson being Rochdale’s tormentor in chief.

The Lancastrians had fought back from behind in the reverse fixture at Spotland in May before losing 24-18, but there was little sign of a similarly close call here, with the Hornets, on this showing, looking destined for the drop.

The Knights duly bounced back in fine fashion from their narrow defeat to Toulouse and, with Olympique falling to a shock loss to Swinton on Saturday, they moved back to within two points of the second-placed French outfit.

They remain fifth given that Featherstone and Leigh, both above them on points-difference, also won. But they still have a two-point buffer in the play-off zone in what is, without doubt, a startling season for the promoted Bootham Crescent boys. There’s no sign of it abating either as the campaign heads towards the home straight.

Ford made six changes to the side edged out by Toulouse, the most notable of course being the return to the club of veteran hooker Andy Ellis – coming out of retirement for a third time after answering an SOS caused by injuries to Kriss Brining (concussion) and the luckless Harry Carter (hamstring).

The 34-year-old, wearing the number 40 shirt, looked a little ring-rusty, having not played at pro level since York’s last game of their 2018 League One title-winning campaign, while his match sharpness was always going to be tested, as shown by a missed tackle from a scrum. But, as the saying goes, class is permanent. He played for around 24 minutes either side of half-time, slotting back in almost as if he'd never been away.

Fit-again Vaivai was back in for Brad Hey at centre for the final game of his one-month loan but fellow Hull KR back Will Oakes this time missed out, hence Whiteley’s recall.

Ronan Dixon, whose previous outing was against Rochdale, made a welcome return to the front-row ranks after five weeks out, replacing Jack Blagbrough, while Leeds loanee Tyler Dupree replaced Joe Porter and Josh Jordan-Roberts came in for loanee Harry Aldous in the second row, the latter having been recalled by Newcastle.

An excellent first set led by battering ram Jack Teanby’s drive was wasted by Graeme Horne’s fumble at a ruck but those early metres were a sign of things to come.

An early dropout soon followed, as did the opening try, Liam Salter finishing a half-chance provided by Liam Harris’ little pass.

Robinson missed the kickable goal but it was his quick-thinking that set up the next try, ironically after the Hornets had forged a way into the contest.

Visiting prop Adam Lawton’s fumble in his own half gave York the platform and, although Vaivai’s ambitious pass on tackle one went to ground off a Hornets hand, Robinson not only mopped things up in the ensuing broken play but zig-zagged into space before sending full-back Matty Marsh darting home.

The scrum-half added the first of his eight conversions.

A couple of penalties gave Rochdale a leg-up and on-loan Swinton centre Daley Williams sniffed an opening on the left, only for excellent scrambling defence to halt him short.

Harris was denied a try due to an obstruction call, while hooker Will Jubb was held up at the whitewash on the last tackle a few minutes later.

It wasn’t long before try number three arrived, though, with Robinson again the architect – slicing through down the left - and Marsh again the scorer.

Then after York drew defenders in, they spread the ball left where Vaivai’s pass gave Whiteley chance to sprint into the corner, evading desperate cover to make it 20-0 just past the half-hour mark.

Marsh didn’t quite have the legs to score a length-of-the-field try after gathering a kick under his own posts and carving through – being grounded by an ankle-tap 20 metres from home. But his run set the platform for the ever-improving Marcus Stock, on as replacement loose-forward, to add to his try tally for the season.

The scoring resumed two minutes into the second half, Harris on the mark, following an early error by the visitors, and there was already a distinct possibility the Knights could be running up a half-century of points.

Nonetheless, although the deficiencies in Rochdale’s defence were shown up by Liam Salter’s break, a lull followed as inconsistency came into York's play.

This allowed the Hornets a foothold and they went close as prop Callum Marriott was held up over the try-line.

However, the Knights struck superbly on the counter attack.

Whiteley rose highest in his own corner to take a kick and he made a few yards down the touchline before offloading to Vaivai – who did the rest, sprinting home from 80-plus metres to cap his entertaining loan spell.

Stand-off Harris set up the next try, looking this way and that before finding Stock, who smartly gave the scoring pass to the deserving Teanby.

Rochdale played some nice stuff to win back-to-back dropouts but York’s goal-line defence would not be breached.

Instead, the hosts finished with three tries in the last 10 minutes.

Vaivai twice drew defenders, made space and sent Whiteley sprinting home – more than repaying the earlier favour from his winger.

And in between times, Robinson capped his own show by slicing through the line again before feeding Sam Scott – the second-row superbly catching the ball one-handed, holding on and touching down.