YORK KNIGHTS fell to their first defeat in four matches as they were beaten 12-14 by strugglers Whitehaven at the LNER Community Stadium in Round Six of the Betfred Championship season this afternoon.

The Knights never really got going, with Andrew Henderson’s side second best across the pitch, not least to the outstanding kicking game of Jamie Doran that saw that of Liam Harris’ rendered almost insignificant.

Henderson was quick to admit that his side were far from their best this afternoon, with former Workington Town Player of the Year Conor Fitzsimmons one of the only bright sparks of a complacent team that appeared confident that they could cruise to victory.

York started the better of the sides but were undone by a quick-fire double from substitute Daniel Spencer-Tonks, who had made a surprise introduction to the match to replace the injured Connor Holliday after just 20 seconds.

But the Knights replied with two tries in three minutes as the half reached its conclusion through Matty Marsh and AJ Towse, with the boot of the returning James Glover giving them a narrow two-point lead at the interval.

An error-strewn second half followed, with the Knights unlucky not to add to their lead 15 minutes after the interval when Marsh appeared to have grounded the ball after a flowing team move down the left wing, only for referee Scott Mikalauskas to rule that he had been held up on the line.

And as frustrations crept in for York, they found themselves behind through what proved to be the winning score, Curtis Teare profiting from a Doran kick to controversially cross into the left corner with little over 10 minutes remaining, despite the protestations from a number of home players.

Henderson made five changes to the Knights side that started their 52-12 triumph over West Bowling in the Third Round of the Betfred Challenge Cup last weekend, with half-back Ata Hingano and Glover returning following their absences due to injury and a new arrival respectively.

Will Jubb, Fitzsimmons and Jordan Thompson were also instated back into the starting line-up after being rested for the Cup, while new recruit Connor Barley, who has joined the Knights on a season-long loan from Betfred Super League outfit Hull KR, making his debut from among the interchanges late on.

Whitehaven were also fielding a stronger side than they have of late, most notably welcoming captain Karl Dixon back into the fold after a groin injury that had kept him out for the start of the season.

The visitors were handed a blow within the first minute as Holliday was the victim of a big hit by Hingano after just 20 seconds, with Spencer-Tonks making an earlier than expected appearance as the second-rower headed down the tunnel for a head injury assessment.

York saw much of the possession inside the opening 10 minutes but created little of note, with any long kicks collected comfortably by visiting full-back Josh Rourke, before they conceded what would prove to be a costly penalty for offside.

Sam Freeman kicked into touch, with the visitors receiving possession back on halfway before working the ball to Spencer-Tonks, who found a gap in the York defence to cross for the game’s opening try. Freeman’s kick flew wide of the sticks.

And it wasn’t long before the Knights found themselves two scores behind, with the substitute the first to dive onto a teasing Doran kick on the line, before Freeman added the extras for the only time this afternoon.

Spencer-Tonks was substituted for Holliday in the aftermath, having certainly made his impact from the bench felt.

Successive penalties fell the Knights’ way as the half reached its midway stage, with Harris’ first effort typifying his afternoon as it uncharacteristically failed to find touch, before his second saw Joe Brown, moved back to the wing from full-back this week, see his effort ruled out for a forward pass by Hingano in the build-up.

But it was the hosts who next crossed the whitewash, albeit somewhat against the run of play, as Marsh latched onto Hingano’s sublime pass to acrobatically cross beneath the sticks for his second try in as many games following his return from an elbow injury. Glover made no mistake to add the extras with the boot.

And the Knights were level three minutes later, former Heworth youngster Towse crossing for a third successive game after a neat step inside into the left corner, Glover firing his side into a surprise two-point lead at the interval in a scintillating end to the opening half.

Myles Harrison’s fumble a minute after the restart set the tone for a second half in which the Knights fell flat, and in which they were made to pay for their errors.

The Knights thought that they had extended their advantage after Marsh collected Harris’ reverse pass before appearing to have crossed the whitewash in the melee that followed, but the referee, racing towards the sticks from the 20-metre line, instead gifted the visitors a turnover of possession.

From the resulting set, Doran’s high kick was gathered by Brown at the second attempt, before the Knights were penalised for a late tackle on substitute Dion Aiye, Freeman audaciously trying to score two points for his side after opting to kick from 40 metres out, but seeing his effort agonisingly bounce off the inside of the right-hand post.

Towse again came close to crossing the whitewash after collecting Hingano’s kick from the last tackle, but the Whitehaven defence recovered well to prevent the young winger from scoring.

But it would be the visitors who would make the long journey back to Cumbria with the two points as a myriad of Knights errors saw a Doran kick-chase worked to Teare, with the aid of a York hand, to controversially cross into the left corner.

Barley was introduced to the fray for his Knights debut with a little over five minutes remaining, with the hosts looking to set up a grandstand finish by opting to play a penalty tackle set close to the Whitehaven line instead of taking a drop-goal, but loosing the ball from the last tackle.

That proved to be the last action of the afternoon, with the visitors claiming a crucial two points to propel them up to 12th, while the Knights drop from fourth to sixth ahead of their visit to Championship leaders Featherstone Rovers on Sunday (3pm).


YORK KNIGHTS: Marsh, Brown, Glover, Harrison, Towse, Hingano, Harris, Antrobus, Jubb, Fitzsimmons, Thompson, Kirmond, Michael.

INTERCHANGES: Daley, Teanby, Ta’ai, Barley.

TRIES: Marsh (36) Towse (39)

GOALS: Glover 2/2

WHITEHAVEN: Rourke, Eccleston, Taylor, Dixon, Teare, Freeman, Doran, Castle, Newton, Tabu, Holliday, Lanskey, O’Brien.

INTERCHANGES: Aiye, Singleton, Spencer-Tonks, Ainley.

TRIES: Spencer-Tonks (11, 14), Teare (68)

GOALS: Freeman 1/4

POINTS SEQUENCE: 0-4, 0-8, 0-10, 4-10, 6-10, 10-10, 12-10, 12-14.

HALF TIME: 12-10

YORK’S STAR MAN: Conor Fitzsimmons. The former Workington man was in a league of his own this afternoon, in both his ball carrying and defensive play, though AJ Towse also had a good afternoon.

REFEREE: Scott Mikalauskas