THE Betfred Championship Play-off Eliminator proved to be a match too far for York Knights as they were handed a 22-8 defeat at Bradford Bulls this evening.

Despite leading 8-0 by the half-hour mark thanks to a Liam Harris penalty and converted Jesse Dee try, a quick-fire double saw the hosts turn the game on its head shortly before the break.

From thereon, the Bulls never looked back, dominating the second half - despite seeing a further two tries ruled out for forward passes - to book themselves a trip to Toulouse Olympique in the Semi Final next weekend.

The Knights were at times their own worst enemy, repeatedly inviting pressure upon their own line through ill-discipline in a match that seemed just one game too far for their battered and bruised side.

As it was, they could only name 17 players owing to 11 injuries, but they could be left proud of even making the play-offs after an unprecedented injury crisis this season.

Head coach Andrew Henderson made one change from the side that triumphed at Barrow Raiders last weekend, with Conor Fitzsimmons making his 150th career appearance in place of the injured Myles Harrison.

With Oli Pratt unavailable after being recalled by parent club Wakefield Trinity, veteran Danny Kirmond dropped into the centres, with the former Workington Town prop taking his place in the second row.

Despite having lost both of their league matches against the Knights, Lee Greenwood was able to name an almost full-strength Bradford side, the experienced Lee Gaskell starting alongside last weekend’s matchwinner Jordan Lilley in the halves, and winger Jorge Taufua returning after a lengthy ban for an alleged bite against Barrow.

However, it was the home bench of Keven Appo, Fenton Rogers and Eribe Doro that went on to make the most impact.

RECAP: Bradford Bulls 22-8 York Knights - Play-off Eliminator

Buoyed by a healthy home crowd, the Bulls looked to pile some early points onto the scoreboard after winning a penalty, and then a six-again within 10 metres of the York line, but Ben Blackmore’s effort was ruled out for a forward pass.

However, it was instead the visitors who drew first blood, Harris making no mistake with his penalty after Bradford were penalised for offside close to their own line.

And it was from another penalty that Henderson’s side nudged themselves further in front with 21 minutes played, albeit from a try that had to be confirmed by the video referee.

Having won a penalty for a high tackle, Dee backed himself with an outstanding drive through the home defence that saw him turn two defenders before somehow grounding the ball to send the travelling supporters into raptures.

Harris converted the score, but that would be the last points that his side registered on a gloomy evening in West Yorkshire.

York Press: Liam Harris was on target with both of his attempts from the tee.Liam Harris was on target with both of his attempts from the tee. (Image: Craig Hawkhead)

Joe Brown did well to prevent a goal-line drop out under pressure before AJ Towse made an outstanding tackle to deny a pacy Bradford break as the Knights remained in control, but they could do little to prevent a growing Bulls attack from bringing themselves onto the scoreboard six minutes before the interval.

The pressure of a goal-line drop out, a six-again and offside within 10 metres of their line told on the York defence, Huddersfield Giants loanee Rogers backing himself as he powered through underneath the posts.

And the hosts were just as clinical after Harris saw his restart go out on the full, Appo crashing through the Knights’ line in similar fashion, with two Lilley conversions turning the game on its head at the interval.

With momentum firmly with the Bulls, it took them just three minutes to add to their total after the break, full-back Tom Holmes profiting from a stunning break to cross beneath the posts before Lilley’s conversion extended their advantage to 10 points.

A poor pass from Pauli Pauli to Sheffield Eagles loanee Jason Bass saw the Knights squander a rare opportunity, and they were lucky not to concede further from the next play, having the touch judge to thank for spotting a forward pass as Taufua saw his effort chalked off.

And a third Bulls try into the opposite corner was disallowed three minutes later, with another pass to Blackmore deemed forward.

With those decisions turning the atmosphere up a notch, a fantastic 40/20 from Gaskell and a penalty for holding saw Lilley stretch the hosts’ lead from the tee.

York Press: The match marked captain Chris Clarkson's last before his retirement.The match marked captain Chris Clarkson's last before his retirement. (Image: Craig Hawkhead)

Three converted tries with a little under 20 minutes remaining always seemed an unlikely prospect for the Knights and they found themselves even further behind from another Lilley penalty, the former Leeds Rhinos youngster making no mistake after Brenden Santi had been penalised for a high tackle.

However, the Bulls were guilty of making errors of their own, Blackmore dropping a short restart before York were awarded a six-again and then a penalty 20 metres from the line, but Bass was unable to hold onto poor offloads in his direction as he was twice left in space on the right wing.

The Knights had further opportunities to cut the deficit inside the game’s final five minutes from a high tackle and a six-again for holding, but Towse saw his grubber go out on the full in a move that typified their second half performance.

A disappointing end to a truly remarkable season for the Knights, in which they made it through adversity to defy the odds and claim their place in the play-offs. With injury returns and a range of signings throughout the off-season, there is plenty of optimism for 2024.

BRADFORD BULLS: Holmes, Blackmore, Arundel, Gill, Taufua, Gaskell, Lilley, Lawrence, Flanagan Snr, Matongo, Wallace, Butler, Baitieri.

INTERCHANGES: Wynne, Appo, Rogers, Doro.

TRIES: Rogers (34), Appo (37), Holmes (43)

GOALS: Lilley 5/5

YORK KNIGHTS: Brown, Bass, Kirmond, Clarkson, Towse, Dee, Harris, Santi, Jubb, Ta’ai, Fitzsimmons, Field, Thompson.

INTERCHANGES: Pemberton, Michael, Pauli, Price.

TRIES: Dee (21)

GOALS: Harris 2/2

POINTS SEQUENCE: 0-2, 0-6, 0-8, 4-8, 6-8, 10-8. 12-8, 16-8, 18-8, 20-8, 22-8.


YORK’S STAR MAN: Joe Brown. The stand-in full-back was solid at the back for the Knights against his former club in another strong individual showing.


REFEREE: Tom Grant