YORK Knights are now just 80 minutes away from a trip to Wembley after a pulsating 22-18 triumph over Newcastle Thunder in their Betfred Challenge Cup Fifth Round tie at the LNER Community Stadium.

It proved to be a classic Challenge Cup tie under the floodlights, with a resolute Newcastle undone by a sensational second-half turnaround by York, leaving spectators on the edge of their seats.

Despite Joe Brown running in the game’s opening try after 17 minutes, the Knights then took their feet off the gas and found themselves with an eight-point deficit at the break against a determined Newcastle side who had nothing to lose.

But Andrew Henderson’s charges came out fighting after the interval, quick-fire tries from AJ Towse and Matty Marsh spearheading an almighty comeback that saw half-back Liam Harris cap his return from injury with the match-winning try in the 64th minute.

Knowing that the encounter would likely be a close one, Knights head coach Andrew Henderson opted to shuffle his starting line-up, with Marsh returning to full back, Joe Brown to the wing and Leeds Rhinos loanee Oli Field from half-back back to the second row.

Hull KR youngster Connor Barley was left out of the squad, with Henderson instead opting to utilise Bailey Antrobus alongside James Glover in the centres to offer added protection down the edges, a move that paid dividends.

Newcastle also rang in the changes for the tie, with prop Connor Moore returning to start from suspension and Daniel Okoro Aroh from injury, while club captain Alex Foster and fellow forward Mitch Clark served their suspensions imposed for Grade C charges in their 44-20 defeat to Sheffield Eagles on Good Friday.

With a place in the AB Sundecks 1895 Cup semi-finals at stake, both sides made a nervy start to proceedings as the Knights were penalised for an error down the left edge after just 20 seconds, before Newcastle were caught offside less than a minute later.

As the rain continued to fall in North Yorkshire, former Keighley Cougars half-back Jack Miller miscued a kick high into the air, but with little distance, gifting an opening for the Knights to gain field position high up the pitch after young full-back Alex Donaghy could only parry Glover’s grubber from the resulting play.

And the Knights needed no invitation to open the scoring, collecting the ball from the goal-line drop-out before switching the play left through Harris and Marsh, who delivered an excellent cut-out pass for Brown to dive over acrobatically into the corner for his fifth try in his last four games against Newcastle.

York Press: Joe Brown acrobatically dives over into the corner to open the night's scoring.Joe Brown acrobatically dives over into the corner to open the night's scoring. (Image: Craig Hawkhead)

Glover couldn’t get the correct angle on his conversion, which flew wide to the right of the posts, but that proved to be his only missed kick of the evening.

That sparked the visitors into action, and they found themselves with a two-point advantage seven minutes later after capitalising on their own goal-line drop-out.

Brown kicked the ball dead for York, with the visitors racing forwards at pace before passing the ball to the left edge for Pocklington-born centre Marcus Walker to level the scores, New Zealand half-back Nikau Williams making no mistake to add the extras.

Glover provided a vital interception to boot the ball away as Newcastle came inches away from quickly extending their lead, but they were across the whitewash again seven minutes before the interval.

Targeting the left edge as the Knights’ area of weakness, Chris Thorman’s side caught out the hosts with a well-placed grubber, before Miller crossed to the right of the posts, a try that many spectators were unsure had been scored.

Brown was unlucky not to have again been played in by Marsh in a carbon copy of the opening try, but the visitors were wise to his move, and preserved their eight-point advantage at the interval.

Determined to bring themselves within a whisker of Wembley, York were a side transformed after the break in a much-improved second-half performance.

York Press: Man of the Match AJ Towse also found space to dive into the corner.Man of the Match AJ Towse also found space to dive into the corner. (Image: Craig Hawkhead)

Former Heworth winger Towse was the first to acrobatically cross five minutes into the second period before Brown raced forward down the right wing, playing in Marsh to mark his birthday with a try two minutes later as the Knights started the second half like a train.

Glover converted both scores, nudging his side back in front with half an hour left to play.

The flurry of tries continued in the 53rd minute after Harris’ controversial failed 40/20, Newcastle making use of their field position to send former Wakefield Trinity youngster Mac Walsh over the whitewash underneath the posts, after he had carved out an opening down the right wing, the boot of Williams again giving his side the advantage.

Australian hooker Josh Daley proved to be a handful for the Thunder defence throughout the second half, with his driving run forward to the 30-metre line paving the way for York to score the game’s decisive try with just over a quarter of an hour remaining.

The impressive Ukuma Ta’ai, who rolled back the years at prop this evening, was held up underneath the sticks as York continued to pile pressure on a tired Newcastle defence before they were gifted a repeat set five metres from the line, Harris muscling his way over to send the LNER Community Stadium into raptures.

Daley was then controversially denied a try after he had seemed to have pounced on Harris’ grubber to cross beneath the posts, the dubious decision by referee Nick Bennett setting up a grandstand finish.

A knock-on from Irish international prop Ronan Michael gifted Newcastle a tackle set on the halfway line with 90 seconds of the tie remaining, but York were able to see out a thrilling victory.

The Knights will find out their opponents for the Sixth Round of the Challenge Cup on Monday night, as the Super League clubs enter the competition, but they will have to wait until later this spring to determine the side that stands between them and a trip to Wembley.

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

INTERCHANGES: Harrison, Michael, Daley, Teanby, Ward.

TRIES: Brown (17), Towse (45), Marsh (48), Harris (64)

GOALS: Glover 3/4

NEWCASTLE THUNDER: Donaghy, Johnson, Walker, Walsh, Clegg, Miller, Williams, Chapelhow, Davies, Moore, Tuliatu, Bailey, Clarke.

INTERCHANGES: T.Chapelhow, Lightowler, Okoro Aroh, Flannigan, Walton.

TRIES: Walker (24), Miller (33) Walsh (53)

GOALS: Williams 3/3

POINTS SEQUENCE: 4-0, 4-4, 4-6, 4-10, 4-12, 8-12, 10-12, 14-12, 16-12, 16-16-, 16-18, 20-18, 22-18


YORK'S STAR MAN: AJ Towse. A mature performance from the former Heworth man down the wing, capped off with a try.

REFEREE: Nick Bennett