A HAT-TRICK from homegrown talent AJ Towse saw York Knights claim their first win in five Betfred Championship matches with a pulsating 30-28 triumph over London Broncos.

The Knights had won the sides’ last two meetings by just two points and that again proved to be the case this afternoon at a sun-soaked LNER Community Stadium in a thrilling encounter to close out York’s Heritage Weekend double-header.

London opened the scoring in fine fashion with Italian second-rower Ethan Natoli profiting from a move straight off the training ground, but it was the Knights who would go into the interval with a 12-point lead thanks to tries from Towse and captain Chris Clarkson.

The hosts couldn’t get a hand on the ball as the visitors ran in two quick-fire tries to bring the scores level seven minutes after the interval, setting the tone for an utterly end-to-end second half.

James Glover’s penalty nudged the Knights back in front soon after before prop forward Ukuma Ta’ai ran in a fantastic solo try on his 300th career appearance, but an under strength Knights weathered the storm, Towse capping his hat-trick with the match-winning try nine minutes from time.

Knights head coach Andrew Henderson named a much-changed line up from his side’s 22-18 victory over Newcastle Thunder on April 21, with half-back Liam Harris, forward Bailey Antrobus (groin strain), and the versatile James Cunningham (head) all picking up injuries over the international break.

The Knights were however able to field influential Tongan half-back Ata Hingano for the first time since their 12-14 defeat to Whitehaven on March 19, and handed former Heworth youngster Oli Pratt his debut after joining on loan from Betfred Super League outfit Wakefield Trinity, both making their impacts upon the side felt.

York Press: Oli Pratt made a fine debut for the Knights after his loan signing.Oli Pratt made a fine debut for the Knights after his loan signing. (Image: Craig Hawkhead)

Mike Eccles, who worked as Henderson’s Head of Performance at the Broncos between 2015 and 2017, welcomed back half-back Henry Raiwalui from injury, fielding a full-strength London side that included Papua New Guinea internationals Emmanuel Waine and Wellington Albert.

London saw the better of the play in the game’s opening exchanges, applying the first wave of pressure in the fifth minute after Leyland kicked a 40/20, but the Knights back line stood firm.

A neat show of hands gave York a penalty, and then a drop-out under the posts as they began to find their feet, but it was instead the visitors who would cross for the opening score after 12 minutes.

Winning a penalty for offside, they powered forward with pace. With the Knights failing to duly wrap up players in the tackle, London were twice allowed to offload, Natoli the grateful recipient to race from the 20 metre line past two defenders and dive across the whitewash into the left corner.

Leyland hit the post with his conversion, but that was his only missed attempt.

Pratt showed just why he is one of the sport’s most highly-rated youngsters with a tremendous run forward to the 15 metre line, a carry that proved to be instrumental as the ball was worked left to Towse, who smuggled over the line to level the scores on the 18-minute mark.

The Knights soon had their second through captain Clarkson, who shrugged off his tendonitis injury to force his way over the line in a great show of strength, Glover arrowing the first of five perfect kicks to fire his side into the lead for the first time.

Mistakes again began to creep into both sides’ games, with a loose York pass intercepted by Leyland, before the Knights won a penalty on the 30-metre line for offside.

The field position gained from that paid dividends for the Knights, as Hingano chipped a kick towards the left corner, Glover showing excellent tenacity to tip backwards to Towse, who plucked the ball out of the sky to touch down.

Glover again nailed the conversion, firing his side into a 16-4 lead at the interval.

As good as the Knights had been in the closing minutes of the opening half, they were as poor at the beginning of the second, almost immediately finding themselves firmly on the back foot.

The York defence that had been so well-drilled before the break was nowhere to be seen as Broncos academy back-rower Jordan Williams made something from nothing off the bench after dodging two tackles to run 25 metres and cross to the left of the posts.

And the Broncos were across the try line again four minutes later as ex-Leeds Rhinos prop Albert finished off a lovely show of hands, using his strength to muscle his way over before Leyland again brought his side back onto level terms.

But a penalty, in which London were penalised for offside, swung the tie back into York’s favour, Glover’s inch-perfect kick from 20 metres setting the tone for the Knights to restore their advantage.

A high tackle on Jordan Thompson saw them awarded a penalty on halfway, and then a repeat set on the 10 metre line for a knock-on, Ta’ai marking his milestone appearance with a try after driving forward, outstretched, to ground the ball to the left of the posts.

York Press: Ukuma Ta'ai was presented with a special shirt commemorating his 300th senior appearance.Ukuma Ta'ai was presented with a special shirt commemorating his 300th senior appearance. (Image: Craig Hawkhead)

The eight-point deficit didn’t deter London, who brought themselves back into the arm-wrestle with 14 minutes remaining, a six-again close to the York line piling too much pressure upon the hosts, as ex-Knight Marcus Stock somehow managed to find enough space to cross to the left of the posts, Leyland again converting to bring the scores to within two.

A successful 40/20 would see the match again ebb in York’s favour in the 71st minute, the ball played left to Towse, who weaved through a gap in the London defence to cross for his hat-trick.

There was still time for tricky centre Waine, who had been a thorn in York’s side throughout, to find the whitewash down the left edge and set up a grandstand finish, but a tackle from Field, which dispossessed his opponent, proved to be the final action of the match.

The two points move York up to ninth, whilst London remain 11th, ahead of the visit of Newcastle Thunder to the LNER Community Stadium next Sunday (3pm).

YORK KNIGHTS: Marsh, Towse, Glover, Pratt, Brown, Hingano, Daley, Ta’ai, Jubb, Kirby, Field, Clarkson, Thompson.

INTERCHANGES: Harrison, Michael, Teanby, Barnard, Barley.

TRIES: Towse (18, 37, 71), Clarkson (25), Ta’ai (56)

GOALS: Glover 5/6

LONDON BRONCOS: Walker, Ulberg, Bassett, Waine, Macani, O.Leyland, Raiwalui, Bienek, Davis, Stock, Lovell, Natoli, Parata.

INTERCHANGES: Albert, Williams, B.Leyland, Nunes Silva, Horsman.

TRIES: Natoli (12), Williams (42), Albert (46), Stock (66), Waine (74)

GOALS: O.Leyland 4/5

POINTS SEQUENCE: 0-4, 4-4, 8-4, 10-4, 14-4, 16-4, 16-8, 16-10, 16-14, 16-16, 18-16, 22-16, 24-16, 24-20, 24-22, 28-22, 30-22, 30-26, 30-28.


YORK'S STAR MAN: Will Jubb. The hooker was excellent in an extended shift, as Josh Daley was pushed to half-back. Hingano, Ta'ai, Towse and Pratt were also standouts.

REFEREE: Cameron Worsley