YORK Knights’ winless streak continued in Cumbria this evening as they lost out by the narrowest of margins in a 26-24 defeat at fellow strugglers Whitehaven.

Andrew Henderson’s charges had made the perfect start after both top-scorer AJ Towse and returning second-rower Danny Kirmond crossed the whitewash inside the opening 10 minutes – but errors conceded close to the try-line, coupled with some less than desirable defence, ultimately proved their downfall.

The Knights would have leapfrogged their opponents up to ninth place with a victory at the LEL Arena, but the result is instead a bitter blow to their already slim hopes of reaching the play-offs, now also dragging them firmly into the relegation picture.

As such, this defeat feels almost demoralising for Henderson’s side, with the head coach expressing his own disappointment, among the heartbreak shown on the faces of his players at full time. York have now lost both their matches against Whitehaven this season by a mere two points.

Henderson was able to field a noticeably stronger team this evening, showing three changes from their 24-8 defeat to Featherstone on Sunday as Liam Harris, Kirmond and Jack Teanby came back into the fold following their respective returns from injury and suspension.

Will Jubb was rested for the second of the Knights’ triple header, seeing James Cunningham handed his first start as hooker as both Josh Daley and Oli Field were named among the interchanges, with Wigan Warrriors loanee Adam Jones and Irish prop Ronan Michael both dropping out of the 17.

The evening was also a special one for both the returning Teanby and impressive new recruit Brenden Santi, who made their 100th York and career appearances respectively.

RECAP: Whitehaven 26-24 York Knights

Whitehaven also named a stronger squad, despite being without Dan Spencer-Tonks – who had scored twice in his side’s 14-12 victory at the LNER Community Stadium in March – with a failed head injury assessment, including influential half-back Jamie Doran and full-back Josh Rourke, the latter of whom had scored 50 points in his previous three outings.

Knowing the importance of tonight’s encounter in not just their play-off aspirations, but to move away from the relegation places, York started like a train, crossing for the crucial opening try in the fifth minute.

Having drawn a sharp intake of breath from the healthy crowd less than a minute prior after Doran’s kick cannoned off the touchline and back into play, the Knights then countered quickly.

Ata Hingano, freed into space down the Knights’ left, sent a delightful chip into the path of top-scorer Towse, who won the foot race to cross for his 12th try of the season into the left corner.

Youngster Myles Harrison, again taking over the kicking duties in the absence of James Glover, saw his kick fly well wide of the posts in the first of three missed kicks from the tee.

York Press: Myles Harrison missed three conversions from the tee.Myles Harrison missed three conversions from the tee. (Image: Ben Challis Sports Photography)

The Knights were notably boosted by their ability to field two recognised half-backs for the first time since the aforementioned Whitehaven defeat on March 19, with Harris instrumental as they doubled their lead in the 10th minute.

Second-rower Ryan King was pressured into losing the ball inside his own half, with Harris floating a kick into the path of veteran Kirmond to barge his way across the line into the right corner, Harrison’s successful conversion extending their lead into double figures.

But the Knights soon became the architects of their own downfall, with the three tries conceded – two of which from cheap penalties within 10 metres of the try-line - before the interval all preventable.

Just six minutes later Whitehaven had their first points of the evening, King muscling his way over the line into the right corner after the Knights had been penalised for offside.

Their second came in similar circumstances, this time after profiting from a terrible pass from Cunningham to Wakefield Trinity loanee Oli Pratt at the play of the ball 10 metres from the line to send loose forward Dion Aiye across underneath the posts.

Rourke made no mistake from adding the extras from bang in front, nor did he from his own score, after brushing off the challenge of prop Ukuma Ta’ai before cutting inside and crashing over the line to give his side a six-point lead at the interval.

York lost Kirmond to a knee injury at the break, but soon found themselves back on level terms.

For the second time, they took advantage of a penalty, this time for a tackle on the lively Daley on their 40-metre line, to send Italian international Santi over underneath the posts for his first try in York colours in just his second appearance, Harrison again adding the extras.

And things could have improved still for Henderson’s side five minutes later after Rourke was forced down in-goal, Santi held up inches from the line before Hingano knocked-on whilst bearing down on the line from the subsequent play.

Pratt thought that he had grounded a Harris grubber into the right corner only for referee Mike Smaill to rule that the ball had been knocked dead as momentum began to shift back the Knights’ way, but it was Whitehaven who crucially nudged themselves back in front with a quarter of an hour remaining.

Towse was bundled into touch on the 10-metre line after attempting to field Doran’s high kick, the hosts profiting from the resultant scrum as former Workington Town winger Curtis Teare barged his way across the line for his second score in as many games against the Knights.

York, to their credit, garnered their response a minute and a half later, dragging themselves back into the arm-wrestle when, after a fantastic drive from captain Chris Clarkson, Daley caught out the Whitehaven defence with a quick switch left to Towse, who again grounded into the left corner.

Harrison was unable to bring his side back onto level terms for the second time, his kick narrowly short of the left post.

York Press: Oli Pratt finished the evening's scoring with a well-worked try into the right corner.Oli Pratt finished the evening's scoring with a well-worked try into the right corner. (Image: Ben Challis Sports Photography)

There was still time for some late action, with the healthy crowd in attendance left on the edge of their seats with two tries inside the final six minutes of the contest.

Teenager Oscar Doran’s acrobatic dive restored the hosts’ six-point advantage with as many minutes left to play, but a failure to convert left the door open, York needing a converted score of their own to claim a share of the spoils.

That looked to have been provided with a minute and a half remaining as Harris broke free from a tackle, racing to the 20-metre line before offloading to the supporting Pratt to score his second Knights try.

But Harrison again saw his conversion fail to find the posts, Whitehaven holding on to a crucial two points in their own bid to avoid the drop.

A bitter blow, both physically and mentally for the Knights in the second of their three matches this week, ahead of the challenge of play-off contenders Halifax Panthers on Sunday (3pm).

WHITEHAVEN: Rourke, Eccleston, Taylor, Teare, O. Doran, J. Doran, Carter, Castle, Newton, Ainley, Holliday, King, Aiye.

INTERCHANGES: McAvoy, Tabu, Singleton, Graham

TRIES: King (16), Aiye (22), Rourke (33), Teare (65) O. Doran (74)

GOALS: Rourke 3/5

YORK KNIGHTS: Brown, Towse, Harrison, Pratt, Ward, Hingano, Harris, Santi, Cunningham, Fitzsimmons, Clarkson, Kirmond, Thompson.

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

TRIES: Towse (5, 69), Kirmond (10), Santi (50), Pratt (78)

GOALS: Harrison 2/5

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

HALF TIME: 16-10


YORK’S STAR MAN: Josh Daley. It was again hard to look past Josh Daley, who appeared to have given the Knights a real lift following his introduction off the bench, as well as providing the assist for Towse’s second try.

REFEREE: Mike Smaill