York City Knights produced a superb first-half performance that set the platform for a 40-16 victory over Whitehaven, the first the club has secured since 1992.
Head Coach James Ford was able to welcome two players back into the matchday squad in the shape of centre Levi Edwards and half-back Brendan O’Hagan, the former starting while the latter came off the bench late on.
Despite the first set of the match ending in a disappointing manner with a kick going out on the full, two tries in the opening ten minutes gave the Knights the start they hoped for.
Loose-forward Jordan Thompson powered through a gap after the Knights forced a repeat set to go under the sticks before Jamie Ellis, after converting the opening try, spun out of a tackle in the left channel to add one of his own. His second successful conversion – amid high winds at the LEL Arena – gave the Knights a twelve point lead before ten minutes had passed.
A thoroughly dominant opening period for the Knights saw further tries added with AJ Towse going over for our third. From the base of a scrum, half-back Liam Harris, after Edwards attracted attention with a great lead line, floated a ball to the teenage winger with Towse able to finish with ease.
Ten minutes later, he added his second with an excellent acrobatic finish after quick hands from captain Chris Clarkson gave him the opportunity. Ellis kicked two excellent conversion attempts from the touchline and gave the Knights a 24-0 lead before thirty minutes had elapsed.
The next period of the match saw Whitehaven mount pressure on the Knights’ line, forcing repeat sets and putting our defence under serious duress. However, when centre James Glover read a play and put a big hit on half-back Cesar Rouge, the Catalans loanee coughed up possession. Back-rower Bailey Antrobus – lining up in the pack in the absence of Danny Kirmond – promptly pouched the ball and ran eighty yards to score his second try for the club. Ellis, again, converted excellently to give the Knights a thirty-point lead at the break.
With the Knights in a superb position for a first win at the Recreation Ground for three decades, the game was quite possibly done in the first period but immediate pressure in the second period from the hosts saw Whitehaven score in the 43rd minute with winger Dave Eccleston going over.
That threat, however, dissipated and, with both sides guilty of errors, neither team could claim the ascendency. The Knights, however, scored a big try on the hour mark that removed any doubt that the two points would be coming back to North Yorkshire.
After working the numbers in our favour, Matty Marsh fired a cut-out pass wide to winger Joe Brown and the former Bradford man scored his second try at the LEL Arena this season after going over in the Challenge Cup defeat earlier in the campaign. Ellis, kicking into the wind, missed his sole conversion of the afternoon and shortly afterwards left the field to be replaced by the returning O’Hagan.
Almost immediately, the Australian bumped off uncompromising Whitehaven middle Dion Aiye to find his way through a gap. Darting through, he almost created a try for Edwards after a great grubber but the centre was deemed guilty of knocking on as he went to gather.
Whitehaven back-rower Ryan King went over after capitalising from a dangerous grubber with Nikau Williams adding the two, but the Knights went up the field to add another try of their own.
O’Hagan, dangerous throughout his fifteen-minute cameo, was the scorer. A subtle dummy saw the Whitehaven defence open up and the Knights’ number six ghosted through to score next to the sticks. Harris converted and sealed the victory for the Knights. Harris, taking the kicking duties with Ellis off the field, converted to seal the victory that had long looked likely.
King added his second and Whitehaven’s third seconds before the hooter, Rouge converting, but a comprehensive Knights win saw Ford and his men bounce back to the exciting rugby that had been missing in the recent victories over Sheffield, London and Widnes while ending talk of a hoodoo at Haven.
York City Knights: Matty Marsh, Joe Brown, James Glover, Levi Edwards, AJ Towse, Liam Harris, Jamie Ellis, Masi Matongo, Will Jubb, Pauli Pauli, Bailey Antrobus, Chris Clarkson, Jordan Thompson.
Interchanges: Brendan O’Hagan, Ronan Dixon, Marcus Stock, Jack Teanby
Tries: Jordan Thompson (5’), Jamie Ellis (8’), AJ Towse (17’, 29’), Bailey Antrobus (37’), Joe Brown (60’), Brendan O’Hagan (74’)
Goals: Jamie Ellis (6/7)
Whitehaven: Luke Broadbent, Dave Eccleston, Perry Singleton, Will Evans, Andrew Bulman, Cesar Rouge, Nikau Williams, Liam McAvoy, Cain Robb, Guy Graham, Ryan King, Corentin Le Cam, Ryan King, Tom Wilkinson.
Interchanges: Tom Walker, Liam Cooper, Dion Aiye, Jake Bradley
Tries: Dave Eccleston (43’), Ryan King (71’, 79’)
Geoff Pryce Man of the Match: Bailey Antrobus – Inglis Chartered Accountants