YORK Knights’ Betfred Championship struggles continued this afternoon, as they dropped to 10th following a 16-6 defeat to Halifax Panthers at The Shay.

Despite the scoreline, head coach Andrew Henderson could seldom criticise his side’s efforts against a Halifax side that seemed complacent that Lachlan Walmsley’s first-half brace would steer their Championship campaign back on track after Monday’s disappointing defeat to Bradford Bulls.

The returning Jacob Fairbank fired Halifax into a 16-point lead after the break, though the Knights did have the last word, finding the try-line in the dying minutes through James Glover.

Halifax may well have been undone by a fully-fit Knights side, with Leeds Rhinos loanee Oli Field and the returning James Cunningham, who had not featured for the Knights since their opening weekend defeat to Widnes Vikings, performing admirably as a makeshift half-back partnership, following injuries to Matty Marsh and Liam Harris over the last week.

A somewhat controversial yellow card, handed out to Cunningham by referee James Vella as the first half drew to a close for a big hit on the impressive Joe Keyes, threatened to open the floodgates for York, but they defended resolutely, and have plenty of positives to take into Friday’s Betfred Challenge Cup Fifth Round tie against Newcastle Thunder (7.30pm).

With 11 players currently sidelined, Henderson made four changes to the side that started York’s defeat to Keighley 10 days ago, with Cunningham, Chris Clarkson, Jon Luke Kirby and Ukuma Ta’ai, who was handed his first start for the club, replacing the injured Conor Fitzsimmons, Harris, Marsh and Danny Kirmond.

That saw the creation of yet another a new half-back partnership in Field and Cunningham, while Hull KR youngster Connor Barley moved from the centres to the wing, and Clarkson to partner Bailey Antrobus in the second row.

Simon Grix also named a much-changed Halifax line-up, with influential loose forward Jacob Fairbank returning from suspension, and Ben Tibbs, Will Calcott and Zack McComb lining up at centre, wing, and prop forward respectively.

Both sides completed their tackle sets without troubling the try line in an even opening to proceedings, but it was York who came closest to another characteristic fast start.

The Knights were awarded a scrum 10 metres from the Halifax line after Walmsley knocked-on in his attempt to stop an offload reaching Myles Harrison down the wing, but they failed to take advantage of their field position as Clarkson was unable to hold onto the ball in a tackle, giving the hosts possession back close to their line.

York Press: Chris Clarkson (right) was a welcome return for the Knights this afternoon, while Lachlan Walmsley again turned try scorer against York.Chris Clarkson (right) was a welcome return for the Knights this afternoon, while Lachlan Walmsley again turned try scorer against York. (Image: Craig Hawkhead)

It was instead the Panthers who opened the scoring in the 16th minute after the ball brushed a York hand on its way into touch 20 metres out, Walmsley crossing the whitewash for a sixth consecutive game against the Knights after being played in down the left wing by French half-back Louis Jouffret.

Keyes added the extras for the only time from the left touchline.

York’s defence seemed unwilling to tackle the dangerous winger in the minutes that followed and they were duly punished as the Panthers won two repeat sets close to the line before working the ball left, Italian international Jake Maizen providing the final piece to allow Walmsley to stroll over into the corner and complete his brace.

Tibbs was forced into a handling error close to the York line as Halifax looked to convert their dominance into further tries, with their task made even harder eight minutes before the interval when Cunningham was controversially sin-binned for a tackle on Keyes on halfway.

However, the Knights rallied and their defence held firm, the half ending with a Halifax goal-line dropout after McComb was trapped in-goal after collecting a Joe Brown kick.

With Australian hooker Josh Daley temporarily filling in at half-back, York picked up where they had left off before the interval, but soon found their defence breached for the third and final time.

A kick from former York hooker Tom Inman caused havoc in the Knights defence, creating space for Fairbank to gather the loose ball before grounding his first try of the season. Jouffret took over the kicking duties, duly landing the conversion to extend his side’s lead to 16.

Errors were the story of the second half for both sides from then on, with Halifax winning a scrum on halfway after a forward pass from Glover to AJ Towse down the left edge, before Tibbs fumbled Jouffret’s offload within metres of the York line.

With 15 minutes remaining, Halifax thought that they had further extended their lead when Brandon Moore raced away under the sticks after being played in by former Salford Red Devils and Hull KR prop Dan Murray, but Vella ruled the pass to have been forward.

York’s back line instead withstood the pressure of a Panthers six-again on the 10 metre line and were rewarded three minutes from time with the score that their performance deserved.

Daley, finishing the match in the halves after Cunningham was substituted, played a delightful kick in the direction of partner Field, who kicked a delicate grubber for Glover to ground down the right wing, the centre making no mistake to convert his own try.

York Press: James Glover crosses for the Knights three minutes from time.James Glover crosses for the Knights three minutes from time. (Image: Craig Hawkhead)

A late Halifax tackle set proved to be the last action of the game, with York’s defence holding strong, the 10-point defeat a scoreline that Henderson and his injury-hit side will not be entirely unhappy with going into Friday evening’s Challenge Cup tie at home to Newcastle.

HALIFAX PANTHERS: Woodburn-Hall, Walmsley, Maizen, Tibbs, McComb, Jouffret, Keyes, Calcott, Moore, Murray, Kavanagh, Gee, Fairbank.

INTERCHANGES: Inman, Lannon, Tangata, Pickersgill, Saltonstall

TRIES: Walmsley (16, 25), Fairbank (49)

GOALS: Keyes 1/2 Jouffret 1/1

YORK KNIGHTS: Brown, Barley, Glover, Harrison, Towse, Field, Cunningham, Kirby, Jubb, Ta’ai, Clarkson, Antrobus, Thompson.

INTERCHANGES: Daley, Michael, Teanby, Ward, Price

TRIES: Glover (77)

GOALS: Glover 1/1

YELLOW CARDS: Cunningham (25)

POINTS SEQUENCE: 4-0, 6-0, 10-0, 14-0, 16-0, 16-4, 16-6


YORK’S STAR MAN: Oli Field. It was a mature performance from the young Leeds loanee at half-back, capped off with an assist for Glover’s try late on.


REFEREE: James Vella