YORK Knights head coach Andrew Henderson has enthused his delight after an “incredible” finish to the Betfred Championship season left his side with an unthinkable place in the top six.

Having been outside the relegation places on points difference only at the end of June, the Knights have defied the odds, earning themselves a Play-off Eliminator at Bradford Bulls on Sunday (6:30pm).

Henderson’s side did their job in Cumbria, tries from Oli Field, Ronan Michael, AJ Towse, Ukuma Ta’ai and Brenden Santi helping to seal a 31-18 victory over Barrow Raiders.

That left the Knights needing relegation-threatened Swinton Lions to beat fancied Halifax Panthers at The Shay, where the Sale-based club delivered one of the shocks of the afternoon, retaining their Championship status with a 22-12 triumph.

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Henderson forgave his usually calm demeanour as the news filtered through in Barrow, exclaiming: “Wow, what an end to the Championship season! It’s been quite incredible.

“We saw going into today that three or four teams were still vying for the top six, and we had any one of four clubs who could be getting relegated.

“It’s been an incredible season.

“From our perspective, we’ve had our challenges, and we’ve still got our challenges at the moment. We don’t have a full bill of health with our squad and we’ve been putting different people in different positions and trying to make it work.

“But what I must say is that certainly in these last 11 or 12 weeks, the penny has dropped within the group. They understand what it takes to win games now. and they’re delivering on that fairly consistently over these last 11 or 12 weeks.

“We’ve had different half-back combinations, different nines, different full-backs, different centres and back-rowers all throughout that period.

“That’s no different to what we had in the first two thirds of the season, the difference now is that we’ve just got that level of understanding and that it’s delivering.

“I’m just really, really pleased for the players because they’ve worked incredibly hard on the training field when we have them, but it’s also the little things that they do outside of the club too – looking after themselves and the little bits and pieces that we encourage them to do but never force them.

“They’ve bought in, and there’s a reason that we are where we are today. I’m just so pleased that the rugby gods have been kind to us to a degree.”

York Press: The Knights' excellent 31-18 victory at Barrow helped to secure their play-off spot.The Knights' excellent 31-18 victory at Barrow helped to secure their play-off spot. (Image: Craig Hawkhead)

It’s been an outstanding final third of the season for York, whose run of 10 wins from their last 11 matches has left them second in the form table, only kept from the summit by League Leaders’ Shield winners Featherstone Rovers on points difference.

With a 26-24 midweek defeat at Whitehaven at the end of June seemingly putting paid to the Knights’ already faint top-six hopes, their attention instead shifted to getting their own house in order.

A renewed sense of belief and a ‘team-first’ mentality has been evident, with a lack of pressure upon the side paying dividends.

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Henderson’s charges have played some eye-catching rugby during that time, including thrilling victories at both Keighley Cougars and Widnes Vikings, and triumphs over Halifax, Batley Bulldogs, Sheffield Eagles and Bradford.

And the head coach has credited his side’s mentality, patience and willingness as the factors that have led to such a turnaround.

“All I’ve said for the last 12 weeks is that we can only control what we can control, and that’s our performances,” he explained.

“We had that mind shift or mentality towards individual performances and getting our own individual houses in order for the greater good of the team, and then collectively focus on our team performances.

“It’s boding well for us. We’ve made those small improvements each week and we’ve continued to pick up results, so I’m really, really pleased.

“Even in the game today, I thought in the first half, there weren’t too many errors from either side.

“Both teams’ ball control was outstanding and the discipline was good, so it really was a set for set play-off mentality.”