York City Knights Ladies came from behind at Headingley Stadium to clinch a 22-14 victory over Leeds Rhinos and, in turn, secure a first-ever Betfred Women’s Super League League Leaders’ Shield.
Going into the game, Lindsay Anfield’s Knights were in pole position for what was a three-way shoot-out for silverware with the Rhinos, as well as reigning champions St Helens, both ready to take advantage if our Ladies had slipped up.
It looked as thought that was possible in the early stages as Leeds – victors over the Knights in this year’s Betfred Women’s Challenge Cup semi-final clash – went into a ten-point lead.
First, England half-back Georgia Roche brought play towards Leeds’ right to get fellow international Fran Goldthorp over the line, the full-back grounding under pressure.
In the tenth minute, Caitlin Beevers was the beneficiary of a neat play that saw the Rhinos do the Knights’ right edge for numbers to extend the lead. Courtney Winfield-Hill converted the second of the two and the hosts led by ten.
Anfield’s team, thereafter, began the process of arresting Leeds’ momentum and building some of their own. Aided by impressive efforts in the pack from Jasmine Bell, Olivia Wood and Hollie Dodd, the Knights grew into the game and began to look the most threatening.
It wasn’t until the 33rd minute that the pressure counted but, when the Knights scored their first try, it was a belter. Two wraparound plays, involving Sinead Peach, Wood, Olivia Gale and Dodd released Katie Langan – lining up at left centre – to get over the line. Stanley’s conversion narrowed the deficit and in the final minute of the half, the full-back scored herself to close it completely.
Producing trademark sidesteps, Stanley was able to ground in the right channel. An unsuccessful conversion left the scores level at the break.
Half-time arguably came at the wrong time for the Knights after two tries late in the first period but the momentum was still with Anfield’s team at the break.
Langan went over for her second try after dummying to open up a gap. Leeds were guilty of a penalty offence on Langan in the act of scoring and, in turn, a penalty try was awarded. Stanley’s conversion attempt was unsuccessful but her following penalty attempt gave the Knights a six-point lead.
In the fifty-fifth minute, Stanley opened clear daylight between the teams after scoring her second try, extending the advantage and, after kicking a penalty to make it a twelve-point ball game, Leeds really began chancing their arm.
A combination of heroic defensive efforts and Leeds errors meant that the Knights line withstood the pressure until the 79th minute when Goldthorp scored her second to make it 22-14.
Winfield-Hill did her best to create with some short, creative kicks but, when Stanley booted one dead in goal, Leeds’ efforts to close the gap would be beaten by the clock. When the official blew the final whistle, delirious scenes from the Knights players, staff and travelling supporters showed just what the success means to them.
Next stop: the Play-Offs.
York City Knights Ladies: Tara Jane Stanley, Ashleigh Hyde, Tamzin Renouf, Katie Langan, Georgia Taylor, Lacey Owen, Olivia Gale, Daisy Sanderson, Sinead Peach, Olivia Wood, Savannah Andrade, Hollie Dodd, Jasmine Bell.
Interchanges: Matilda Butler, Leila Bessahli, Elisa Akpa, Georgie Hetherington
Tries: Langan (33‘, 44‘), Stanley (39‘, 55‘)
Conversions: Stanley (1/4)
Penalties: Stanley (2/2)
Leeds Rhinos: Fran Goldthorp, Tara Moxon, Hanna Butcher, Caitlin Beevers, Sophie Robinson, Georgia Roche, Courtney Winfield-Hill, Dannielle Anderson, Keara Bennett, Zoe Hornby, Chloe Kerrigan, Sophie Nuttall, Orla McCallion.
Interchanges: Jasmine Earnshaw-Cudjoe, Lucy Murray, Alex Barnes, Shannon Lacey
Tries: Goldthorp (4’, 79’), Beevers (10’)
Conversions: Winfield-Hill (1/3)