A SCINTILLATING 14-minute hat-trick from the returning James Haynes inside the opening quarter sent York City Knights on their way to a superb 34-0 victory over Workington to handsomely seal fourth place in League One – and avoid another draining trek to Canada.

York had been ahead of Newcastle and Doncaster on points-difference in the race for fourth, the reward for the top four being an extra home game in the Super 8s. Whoever finished fourth also got to meet Toronto at home rather than away.

The Knights had to not only beat Workington – which in itself was no gimme, especially given their poor record against Cumbrian teams – but also potentially beat the scoreboard too.

And this they did, primarily thanks to arguably the best first half of rugby seen in an ever-improving season at Bootham Crescent.

Club stalwart Haynes led the way as James Ford’s team built a 28-0 interval lead, which – coupled with the Newcastle and Donny scorelines not providing any concerns - meant they had fourth spot in the bag long before the game finished. There was the added consolation of the Knights keeping their first clean sheet of the term to boot.

It all came at a possible cost, though, with the Knights losing both in-form back-rowers Ed Smith and Joe Batchelor to injury in the second half, while hooker Andy Ellis, back after five games out with a calf strain, disappeared down the tunnel early too. They will all be checked in the coming days.

Ellis, as interchange hooker in place of Pat Smith, had been one of no fewer than seven alterations to the side that hammered Hemel last week, some enforced, others not.

Try star Liam Harris was out injured so Harry Tyson-Wilson came back in at half-back alongside Connor Robinson, while Haynes was a straight swap for Tuoyo Egodo (hamstring) at centre.

Plentiful changes came in the middle unit, with Ford bringing in two more dual-reg props from Hull KR in Mitch Clark and George Lawler alongside Super League veteran Graeme Horne. Joe Porter was also back after being sidelined for two months with a broken jaw.

Chris Siddons (getting married), Ronan Dixon (illness), Ryan Mallinder and Liam Thompson were replaced, while Nev Morrison remained on the wing with Tommy Saxton staying in the stands.

Ford reckoned there would not be much disruption to fluidity given the majority of changes were up top, where the jobs of “running harder and tackling harder” than their direct opponents were generally the same at all clubs.

The latest incomers won’t be eligible to return on dual-reg in the Super 8s, but they certainly did their jobs here – and few would complain if they could somehow return.

Moreover, not much looked disrupted when, after the game’s first penalty, great hands left to right saw Haynes crash over from Ash Robson’s well-timed pass.

Two penalties the other way gave Worky the chance of an immediate riposte but fine defence ultimately saw Morrison crunch opposite winger Philip Lister into touch.

York were playing with a pace and intensity the visitors couldn’t cope with, and, after Brad Hey went close on the last tackle, being caught by Danyal Rasool, the hosts - and Haynes - got a second try.

Smith bounced off men and got a great offload out to Haynes who bumped off others in a cracking finish.

Two minutes later he had his treble.

Connor Robinson’s swirling bomb was allowed to bounce by full-back Tee Ritson, with the ball ending up in Tyson-Wilson’s hands. The scrum-half sent out a splendid long pass for Haynes to scamper in.

Robinson curled in his third conversion from pretty much the same spot and the Knights were on their way, 18-0 up.

It was 24-0 after 25 minutes after Town centre Rasool was trapped and then shoved into touch 12 metres from his own line. Will Jubb, so smooth and accurate with his passing from dummy-half, this time went himself, Robinson converting.

York kept the pressure on. Another Robinson kick was allowed to bounce, this time next to the touchline, with a linesman saying it brushed Lister’s chest before going out of play.

From the attacking scrum, Tyson-Wilson’s first grubber forced a dropout. His next saw Batchelor score, the second-row all over it like a rash.

A penalty gave Worky another chance but the defence again held out, a thumping tackle by Morrison again a highlight, this one on dangerman Ritson.

York ended the half attacking, too, on the back of a trademark break from defence by winger Dee Foggin-Johnston, but their 100 per cent completion rate was ruined when Porter fumbled the ball on the hooter.

York dropped off those standards in the second half but remained largely on top, Town likewise were scratchy and still unable to break through a stoic defence.

Young prop Lawler had a try ruled out as Tyson-Wilson’s pass was forward, while York had an escape at the other end as Foggin-Johnston fumbled when trying to get out of his in-goal area, referee Andy Sweet awarding a dropout rather than a try as hands went to touch the loose ball down.

Full-back Robson is so often a terror in possession but sometimes holds on. On the one occasion he should definitely have gone himself, he fired a pass to Foggin-Johnston out of bounds.

Just as the home fans ironically began to chant “we want a try”, the Knights obliged, Adam Robinson – in another bulldozing display up top - offloading for the excellent Jubb to burrow in for his second try which Robinson converted.

York had not beaten a pro Cumbrian team in nine attempts, and only twice in 15, but both those had come against Worky and, unlike with Barrow in particular, there is no hoodoo here. Town will also be back for more in the Super 8s.

Furthermore, with performances like this, especially that in the first half, Ford is right to say trips to Barrow and Whitehaven should hold no fears for his troops in the upcoming Super 8s.