YORK Knights’ Betfred Challenge Cup campaign came to an end with a 34-14 defeat to Betfred Super League Leigh Leopards in front of a bumper crowd at the LNER Community Stadium this evening.

It was an outstanding performance from 1 to 17 for the Knights, with every member of Andrew Henderson’s side seldom able to have given any more against the Super League’s in-form team.

Less than 12 months ago, the Knights were given a humbling by Leigh in a record 100-4 Betfred Championship defeat, but were a side transformed from that day, and in fact took in a shock eight-point advantage at the interval.

Leigh had not been helped by the dismissal of Kai O’Donnell for a spear tackle on Josh Daley five minutes into the encounter, nor a yellow card to former Leeds Rhinos centre Zak Hardaker 12 minutes later, but with nothing to lose, the Knights were clinical in taking their opportunities, appearing to shell shock their opponents.

But such a monumental effort was always likely to leave the part-time Knights exhausted, the quality of their full-time opponents telling with three tries inside the final 15 minutes to turn the game on its head and see Leigh to a comfortable victory.

With the loss of centres Jesse Dee and James Glover during their 40-10 defeat at Sheffield Eagles 10 days ago, Henderson again had to shuffle his pack, with Wigan Warriors loanee Adam Jones thrust in to debut alongside Myles Harrison in the position.

Brad Ward replaced the injured Olly Butterworth at right wing, with the Knights undoubtedly a side boosted by the return of Tongan half-back Ata Hingano alongside Josh Daley in the halves, a move that saw James Cunningham revert back to loose forward.

With the promise of a financial incentive from owner Derek Beaumont for each stage of their Challenge Cup progression, Adrian Lam named a strong Leigh side – with leading Super League scorer Josh Charnley and former Leeds pair Hardaker and Tom Briscoe all included.

As expected, the visitors saw the better of the play in the opening exchanges, forcing York to kick from within their own half in their first attacking set, before winning a scrum 25 metres from the line after an attempted intercept by Ward.

However, York were soon handed a lifeline, with referee Jack Smith left with no choice but to brandish a red card to second-rower O’Donnell for an horrendous spear tackle on Daley on the Knights’ 20 metre line.

York Press: Kai O'Donnell was sent off for a spear tackle on Josh Daley just five minutes into the match.Kai O'Donnell was sent off for a spear tackle on Josh Daley just five minutes into the match. (Image: York RLFC)

Things appeared to have further turned golden for York when ever-present hooker Will Jubb crashed across into the left corner, but his effort was ruled out by the video referee, York then spilling the ball as they looked to capitalise on the scrum that they had been instead awarded.

A combination of Jones and Ward bundled Charnley into touch as the Knights’ persistence intensified, before a late hit on Daley from loose forward John Asiata presented them with a golden opportunity to notch the evening’s first points.

With regular kicker Glover injured, responsibilities fell upon Harrison, who delivered superbly under pressure to arrow his kick between the posts.

Hingano was penalised for a shoulder charge as the game grew increasingly physical, with Hardaker the next player to be cautioned by Smith after catching the lively AJ Towse with a tackle that was both high and late.

The resultant pressure told on the 11 men of Leigh less than a minute later, with Joe Brown the first to a Hingano bomb to ground to the left of the posts, Harrison’s successful conversion only adding to the jubilant scenes.

York Press: Joe Brown dives across the whitewash for the game's opening try.Joe Brown dives across the whitewash for the game's opening try. (Image: Craig Hawkhead)

An error by the aforementioned Charnley then presented York with another golden opportunity to extend their lead midway through the half, with Daley inches away from the line before being tackled.

Instead, Leigh fought their way back into the arm wrestle, reducing the deficit to two points after the Knights failed to field Lachlan Lam’s grubber, with Joe Mellor first to race in and ground the loose ball beneath the posts. Gareth O’Brien added the two with ease.

Despite that, Tom Nisbet made an error on the play of the ball as York continued to rattle their opponents, crossing the whitewash for the second and final time six minutes before half time.

Hingano was again influential with a kick into the left corner, with Towse tipping the ball back in the direction of Harrison to ground, the video referee again confirming the try to leave the Knights in dreamland.

With neither side able to progress past their own 30, play threatened to stagnate as the half drew to a close, but it was the Knights who had the last word in spectacular style on the hooter, Harrison converting a penalty from 35 metres after a big hit on Cunningham to give his side a 14-6 lead at the interval.

York Press: Myles Harrison was voted our Man of the Match, and had a fantastic evening from the tee.Myles Harrison was voted our Man of the Match, and had a fantastic evening from the tee. (Image: Craig Hawkhead)

Being such a margin behind saw Leigh up the ferocious tempo after the break but York dealt with it admirably, bundling both Umyla Hanley and O’Brien into touch in quick succession as they looked to protect their unlikely lead.

Another chance went begging for York with 50 minutes played after they were awarded a penalty for a forward pass, with both Jon Luke Kirby and Oli Field held up on the line by some tenacious Leigh defence before the turnover on the visitors’ line.

But Leigh seized upon their opportunity as the Knights began to tire, spreading the play quickly to both wings and forcing the hosts to cough up a penalty for offside 10 metres from their line.

Tom Amone was held up on his first attempt but made no mistake with his second to twist his way over the line and crash underneath the posts, the boot of O’Brien reducing the deficit to just two.

That try proved to be crucial as any wind was knocked firmly out of York’s sails.

York had kept Leigh top-scorer Charnley quiet, but were helpless to stop the tricky winger from diving over acrobatically into the left corner to give his side the lead with a little over an hour played, before they profited from a scrum on the 40 metre line as Charnley turned provider for Briscoe to cut inside before crashing over the whitewash.

And things went from bad to worse for the Knights with nine minutes remaining, Charnley strolling across into the left corner for his 20th try of the season after another neat show of hands, Hardaker taking over the kicking duties to see his side to a 14-point advantage.

With the left edge proving fruitful, Leigh continued their onslaught, but the Knights were wise to it.

York however would finish the game with 12 men, their tiredness typified by a high tackle by Jack Teanby that saw the interchange forward sin-binned with three minutes left to play.

York Press: The match was an extremely physical affair.The match was an extremely physical affair. (Image: Craig Hawkhead)

The visitors though still found time to finish with a final flourish, with Briscoe given the freedom of the right wing to cross for his second of the evening and leave York bodies on the floor in his wake, before Hardaker added another two points on the final hooter.

Nonetheless, it was a truly herculean effort from the Knights to restrict free-scoring Leigh to just 34 points, in what can be regarded as one of their best performances of the season ahead of next Sunday’s clash with Championship leaders Featherstone Rovers.

YORK KNIGHTS: Brown, Towse, Harrison, Jones, Ward, Hingano, Daley, Ta’ai, Jubb, Fitzsimmons. Field, Clarkson, Cunningham.

INTERCHANGES: Teanby, Kirby, Michael, Sumner.

TRIES: Brown (18), Harrison (33)

GOALS: Harrison 3/4

YELLOW CARDS: Teanby (77)

LEIGH LEOPARDS: O’Brien, Briscoe, Hanley, Hardaker, Charnley, Mellor, Lam, Amone, Davis, Mulhern, Nisbet, O’Donnell, Asiata.

INTERCHANGES: Chamberlain, Smith, Wilde, Seumanufagai.

TRIES: Mellor (24), Amone (57), Charnley (61, 71), Briscoe (66,79)

GOALS: O’Brien 2/3, Hardaker 3/3

YELLOW CARDS: Hardaker (17)

RED CARDS: O’Donnell (5)

POINTS SEQUENCE: 2-0, 6-0. 8-0, 8-4, 8-6, 12-6, 14-6, 14-10, 14-12, 14-16, 14-20, 14-22, 14-26, 14-28, 14-32, 14-34.


YORK’S STAR MAN: Myles Harrison. A performance beyond the Heworth youngster’s years this evening with a try and three conversions – two of which were penalties under increased pressure.

REFEREE: Jack Smith