YORK Knights took a huge step to confirming their Betfred Championship safety with a 50-10 rout of hosts Keighley Cougars this afternoon.

The Cougars hit York hard with an early barrage but Andrew Henderson’s side never really left first gear in a cagey opening half, with Man of the Match Jesse Dee completing a fine hat-trick to fire his side into a 18-6 lead at the interval.

But the Knights turned on the style after the break to cut through the Keighley defence like a knife through butter to record their largest victory since mid-March and ensure that their head coach’s return to his former employers would be a memorable one.

Youngster Myles Harrison, now expected to be their kicker for the rest of the season after James Glover’s loan move to Sheffield Eagles, was outstanding on a faultless afternoon from the tee to add 18 points to the scoreboard.

Whilst the result only moves the Knights up one place in the table thanks to a superior points difference over Whitehaven, it’s a huge statement to the sides around them at the wrong end of the table about what a near full-strength York can do.

Henderson made two changes to the side that shocked play-off hopefuls Halifax Panthers last week, with prop Jack Teanby returning after picking up a knock in Whitehaven, while new recruit Jason Bass was also named among the interchanges after rejoining the club.

Youngsters Oli Pratt and Brad Ward were the ones to drop out in their places, the latter serving as one of this afternoon’s waterboys.

As expected, Jy-mel Coleman named a much-changed Keighley line-up from last weekend’s 74-12 thrashing at Bradford Bulls, replacing seven of his 17 – including handing Kyle Trout his first appearance since the opening day of the season at loose forward.

Such has been Keighley’s downward slide since the sides last met on Good Friday, just five of their 17 this afternoon featured in their 22-10 victory at the LNER Community Stadium.

With the match undoubtedly a crucial clash at the wrong end of the Championship table, Keighley started like a train, with former Toronto Wolfpack prop Toby Everett held up beneath the posts before Brad Walker’s grubber went out on the full.

York suffered an early injury blow in the aftermath as versatile back James Cunningham was forced from the field with a head injury, handing Bass his second debut just five minutes into the encounter, with the winger seeming as though he had never stepped away.

Keighley had been let off by both a poor kick from Jake Sweeting and a slow reaction from the restart, but saw their defence breached for the first time with 16 minutes played.

After being afforded both space and time on the Knights’ right edge, Dee skipped left and right before cutting inside and crashing over the whitewash, Harrison making no mistake to add the extras.

York Press: Myles Harrison enjoyed a perfect afternoon from the tee.Myles Harrison enjoyed a perfect afternoon from the tee. (Image: Craig Hawkhead)

And the Australian was across the whitewash for the second time just four minutes later after profiting from an error at the play of the ball 10 metres from the line.

Such was the Knights’ defence, Keighley struggled to string passes together, both Harris and young second-rower Oli Field getting their hands onto passes but conceding penalties in the process.

From the second of those, the hosts hit back to register their first points of the afternoon, a lovely show of hands seeing winger Alix Stephenson acrobatically dive into the corner before Walker halved the deficit.

But it was York who crashed over next, increasing their lead to 12 points at the interval after full-back Joe Brown drove for the line, with a neat show of hands working the ball to Dee to complete his hat-trick.

York Press: Jesse Dee dives across the line to complete his first-half hat-trick.Jesse Dee dives across the line to complete his first-half hat-trick. (Image: Craig Hawkhead)

The Knights needed less than a minute to extend their advantage from the restart, Harrison duly dispatching a penalty after the hosts had been penalised 15 metres from their line.

Brown saw a score controversially chalked off for offside seven minutes later, but it was instead Keighley who crossed the try-line next, Stephenson notching his second of the afternoon in as spectacular style as his first, despite a dreadful pass to winger Charlie Graham in the build-up.

But that proved to be as good as it got for the hosts, who were carved open at will thereafter.

Feeling aggrieved, their defence stood still as Field ran forward 20 metres unchallenged to cross beneath the posts, before a lovely dummy from Conor Fitzsimmons saw the Keighley defence go one way and the prop the other as he barged his way across from close range.

Visibly running out of steam, nobody could lay a finger on Harrison as he dipped and weaved out of tackles to bring York to the 20-metre line on the return after superbly collecting Walker’s kick, captain Chris Clarkson then offloading to Brown to race across the line and mark his 100th career appearance with a try.

And the full-back was across again less than two minutes later, a rapid interlinking break between Bass and Cunningham releasing him into acres of space to race beneath the posts.

York still had time to wrap up the scoring with a minute and a half remaining after Graham fumbled the kick-off, allowing Fitzsimmons to race to within 20 metres of the line before being tackled.

York Press: AJ Towse wrapped up the scoring with a minute and a half remaining.AJ Towse wrapped up the scoring with a minute and a half remaining. (Image: Craig Hawkhead)

From the resultant play, the Knights sprayed the ball left to Dee, who showed a glimpse of his time at half-back to allow top-scorer AJ Towse to stroll across into the left corner with a delightful cut-out pass, Harrison’s ninth perfect kick of the afternoon bringing up the half-century.

A fantastic afternoon for Henderson on his return to Cougar Park, with York claiming a vital two points against their relegation rivals in the battle to stay in the division, their joint biggest margin of victory providing the perfect platform for the visit of play-off contenders Sheffield to the LNER Community Stadium on Sunday (3pm).

KEIGHLEY COUGARS: Laulu Togaga’e, Stephenson, Storey, Roby, Graham, Sweeting, Walker, Bibby, Doyle, Everett, Robson, Adebiyi, Trout.

INTERCHANGES: Atkinson, Hird, Kesik, Levy.

TRIES: Stephenson (29, 47)

GOALS: Walker 1/2

YORK KNIGHTS: Brown, Harrison, Dee, Clarkson, Cunningham, Harris, Santi, Daley, Fitzsimmons, Field, Antrobus, Thompson.

INTERCHANGES: Bass, Michael, Ta’ai, Teanby

TRIES: Dee (16, 20, 34), Field (58), Fitzsimmons (65), Brown (72, 74), Towse (78)

GOALS: Harrison 9/9

POINTS SEQUENCE: 0-4, 0-6, 0-10, 0-12, 4-12, 6-12, 6-16, 6-18, 6-20, 10-20, 10-24, 10-26, 10-30, 10-32, 10-36, 10-38, 10-42, 10-44, 10-48, 10-50.


YORK’S STAR MAN: Jesse Dee. A hat-trick of tries and a lovely assist for the Australian centre in another fine performance. A special mention too to Myles Harrison, who was perfect from the tee.

REFEREE: Nick Bennett.