YORK Knights suffered an almighty second-half collapse this afternoon, falling to a 46-4 defeat at undefeated Betfred Championship leaders Featherstone Rovers.

Despite a spirited first-half performance from Andrew Henderson’s side, the Knights’ floodgates well and truly opened after the interval, Rovers’ top-scorer Gareth Gale leading the charge with a well-taken hat-trick that included two tries in as many minutes.

The hosts, who appeared every inch a Betfred Super League outfit, looked like scoring every time that they came forward, with Mathieu Cozza, Elijah Taylor, Kyle Evans, Connor Jones and Joey Leilua also on the scoresheet for the much-fancied League leaders.

James Glover’s unconverted try offered a ray of hope for York late on, but the hosts maintained their composure to round off a convincing victory that sees the Knights’ winless run at the Millennium Stadium extended to nine matches.

Henderson opted to make three changes to the Knights side that started against Whitehaven last weekend, with Ata Hingano, Myles Harrison and Ronan Michael dropping out in favour of the returning Brad Ward and Jesse Dee, and Connor Barley, who was handed his first start after joining the club on a loan deal from Super League side Hull KR.

Joe Brown was moved back to full-back, in which he enjoyed a fantastic stint in the absence of the injured Matty Marsh, with outside back Barley playing alongside Glover in the centres, and Marsh with Liam Harris in the halves.

Featherstone coach Sean Long also opted for a hat-trick of changes to his line-up, most notably reinstating centre Craig Hall, who would go on to miss only two of his nine kicks on an afternoon that saw him become just the 13th player in the club’s history to reach 300 goals.  

York started the better of the sides in the opening exchanges, pressuring the home line after winning a scrum 20 metres out, before they won another set after Leilua failed to take Harris’ pass cleanly, however the home defence stood firm as Jordan Thompson fumbled Will Jubb’s offload inches from the line.

It would instead be the much-fancied hosts who opened the scoring in the 14th minute, former Catalans Dragons loose forward Cozza jinking left and right through a gap in the York defence to cross for his first Featherstone try beneath the sticks. Hall made no mistake to add the extras.

Leilua came close to doubling his side’s advantage with a bursting run down the right flank, before Brown did just enough to prevent Cozza racing away with the ball, as Featherstone drove at the York defence with will.

They proved to be warnings that the Knights didn’t heed, with Taylor twisting his way over the line to the right of the sticks for his first try in blue and white 10 minutes later.

York looked to respond, working the ball to the 20-metre line before Marsh opted for a short kick in behind that was easily collected by Featherstone, but it again proved to be an afternoon where their kicking game was indifferent, and much bettered by that of 21-year-old Warrington Wolves loanee Riley Dean.

Danny Kirmond headed down the tunnel for a head injury assessment after a heavy tackle, with the Knights made to pay for their poor decision making as first interchange Jack Teanby was held up on the line, before a loose offload from the resultant tackle saw the Knights forced back 10 metres.

And it was Featherstone who had the last word before the interval, Hall audaciously opting to kick for goal after his side had won a penalty 35 metres out, with his kick sailing between the sticks to gift his side a perhaps flattering 14-0 half-time lead.

Despite keeping themselves in the game at the break, the Knights’ resolve was quickly undone, with the Rovers showing their class to run in four tries in a devastating 11-minute spell that killed off any chance of a fightback from the visitors.

First, the centre-wing combination of Leilua and Evans proved fruitful, with the latter diving over unchallenged into the right corner, before two substitutes combined, with John Davies feeding Australian hooker Connor Jones to dive over to the right of the posts in a blistering spell.

The red-hot Gale, second in the Championship’s try-scoring standings heading into the encounter, was next to cross the whitewash for Featherstone, strolling over into the corner before Hall added the extras to extend his side’s lead to 30.

And the winger carved the York defence open at will again just 90 seconds later, evading Brown’s attempted tackle to cross into goal down the left wing, before grounding the ball beneath the sticks.

With the game catastrophically slipping further out of their grasp, the Knights did eventually give their supporters something to cheer about, as Glover latched on to Harris’ grubber in behind to ground the ball down the right wing, but he was unable to convert.

Evans was tackled into touch before Craig Kopczak was pushed into the left post as York’s defence rallied, but they were again the architects of their own downfall as they were penalised close to their own line, Gale acrobatically diving over after a neat show of hands to complete his hat-trick with 10 minutes remaining.

There was still time for Leilua to mark an impressive performance with a try with four minutes of the tie left to play, using his strength to barge across the line after Barley had been trapped in-goal, Hall making no mistake to add the extras to complete the rout.

It proved to be a second consecutive Championship defeat for Henderson’s Knights, who will be looking to bounce back in the Fourth Round of the Challenge Cup at home to Sheffield Eagles on Sunday (12:30pm).

FEATHERSTONE ROVERS: Aekins, Evans, Leilua, Hall, Gale, Taylor, Dean, Kopczak, Wildie, Lockwood, Day, Bussey, Cozza.

INTERCHANGES: Jones, Davies, Moors, Yei

TRIES: Cozza (14), Taylor (22), Evans (44), Jones (47), Gale (51, 53, 70), Leilua (76)

GOALS: Hall 7/9

YORK KNIGHTS: Brown, Towse, Barley, Glover, Ward, Marsh, Harris, Antrobus, Jubb, Fitzsimmons, Dee, Kirmond, Thompson.

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

TRIES: Glover (58)

GOALS: Glover 0/1

POINTS SEQUENCE: 4-0, 6-0, 10-0, 12-0, 14-0, 18-0, 22-0, 24-0, 28-0, 30-0, 34-0, 34-4, 38-4, 40-4, 44-4, 46-4.


YORK’S STAR MAN: Bailey Antrobus. Another solid shift from the Welsh international prop against a Featherstone outfit who most teams in the Championship would have struggled to handle this afternoon.

REFEREE: Liam Rush