Knights slip away from play-offs in 24-8 loss to Featherstone Rovers
It appeared as though the manner of last weekend’s outstanding performance against the Betfred Super League’s Leigh Leopards had inspired York, who found themselves with an unlikely lead through Ata Hingano inside the opening 10 minutes.
But the interchangeable weather – which included a heavy downpour at the beginning of the second half – combined with a less than glittering refereeing performance from James Vella and his team, knocked the wind out of their sails, with Featherstone ultimately running out worthy winners.
However, York were markedly improved from their previous two outings against Featherstone, in which they conceded 46 points on both occasions, also marshalling top-scorer Gareth Gale excellently.
With a midweek trip to Whitehaven on Wednesday evening (7:30pm), and a home fixture against Halifax Panthers on Sunday (3pm) still to come for the Knights this week, there are a further two opportunities to get some points onto the board, a need that is growing ever greater with the sides around them all picking up vital wins today.
Head coach Andrew Henderson’s hints of a possible return from injury proved to be correct, with experienced loose forward Jordan Thompson named among the interchanges and playing a vital role in their forward line after his 19th minute introduction.
Wakefield Trinity loanee Oli Pratt also made a welcome return to action to partner youngster Myles Harrison in the centres, whilst Italian international prop Brenden Santi made his Knights debut in place of the suspended Jack Teanby.
Sean Long opted for just one change to his Featherstone side, as Junior Moors replaced former Huddersfield Giants loose forward Dan Smith, and was again able to call upon the services of ex-Tolouse Olympique star Mark Kheirallah at full-back after an 11-month injury layoff.
Drawing the first blood was always likely to prove crucial in this encounter, with York capitalising on a sloppy start from the visitors to open the scoring in the ninth minute.
Featherstone characteristically tried to offload in the tackle, with Hingano able to cut out a pass down the Knights’ left before racing unchallenged from his own 40 metre line to cross into the left corner.
Unlike last weekend’s gargantuan effort against Leigh, Myles Harrison was unable to convert from a tight angle, seeing his effort whistle past the posts.
York appeared to have a renewed vigour following their Betfred Challenge Cup exploits, their tackling noticeably much more powerful – none more than on Featherstone loose forward Jack Bussey, who had to be stretchered from the field with a nasty leg injury after a stoppage of play in the 13th minute.
Despite that, they routinely invited Featherstone into attacking field position as Oli Field was unable to gather a loose Hingano pass before they conceded a six-again from a failed interception.
Though strong in their initial defence, York’s failure to field the loose ball saw the visitors nudge themselves in front midway through the half as Samoan centre Joey Leilua muscled his way over into the left corner, the boot of Kheirallah giving them the slenderest of advantages.
Prop James Lockwood was held up as Featherstone looked to extend their lead two minutes later, but it was instead York who responded with a score of their own.
Hingano’s influence again proved critical, with Luke Briscoe unable to field his high kick to the left corner, allowing top-scorer AJ Towse to collect the loose ball before grounding his 11th try of the season.
Harrison again missed the chance to add the extras, his kick cannoning off the left-hand post.
That lead though proved to last just four minutes, as some shambolic defending left the door open for Kheirallah to brush off attempted tackles from Hingano, Harrison and Towse before feeding Leilua to power across the line for his second of the afternoon and give his side an 8-10 lead at the interval.
The heavens opened to a torrential downpour during the break, with the Knights initially coping better than their opponents, before conceding a penalty on their 30-metre line for offside.
Kheirallah opted to take the two points, duly converting to put his side a try in front.
With little from the officials going in their favour, York were left feeling aggrieved when a high tackle on second-rower Oli Field went unpunished, and even more so when Featherstone opened up a 12-point advantage.
Despite strong appeals for a forward pass, interchange John Davies left defenders in his wake with a bursting run forward before feeding the supporting Kheirallah to dive across the whitewash, the full-back then adding the extras.
Josh Daley reverted to his preferred position of hooker as Will Jubb was withdrawn in place of James Cunningham, with York then gifted a fantastic opportunity from a knock-on 10 metres from the line, but Santi was unable to stretch to ground.
Instead, wind seemed to have been firmly knocked out of the Knights’ sails, with Featherstone in the ascendancy as the encounter neared its conclusion.
Hingano’s flair and creativity had been lacking for York but was fraught with danger, as both Harrison and Pratt were unable to gather cut-out passes in their direction.
But the Knights refused to give up, Brad Ward almost able to tip the ball backwards in the direction of Pratt in a near-recreation of Harrison’s Impact Performance Try of the Week against Leigh, before Briscoe provided a sensational try-saving tackle to stop the ball from reaching Towse.
Joe Brown was the next to knock-on from a loose Hingano pass but the half-back’s blushes were spared by a fantastic defensive scramble that saw McKenzie Yei held up underneath the posts, with Connor Jones then ruled to have knocked-on as he crossed the whitewash from the subsequent play.
That though proved to be a warning that York didn’t heed, as after a covering tackle from Ronan Michael that had left Kheirallah inches from the line, Jones darted out of dummy half to muscle his way over to the left of the posts to complete the scoring.
Nonetheless, it was a much-improved performance from Henderson’s charges against the league leaders, with such a display likely to bring points against teams lower down the table. With just one win separating the sides from ninth to 13th, Wednesday’s trip to fellow strugglers Whitehaven is a must-win for the Knights.
YORK KNIGHTS: Brown, Towse, Harrison, Pratt, Ward, Hingano, Daley, Ta’ai, Jubb, Santi, Field, Clarkson, Cunningham.
INTERCHANGES: Fitzsimmons, Thompson, Michael, Jones.
TRIES: Hingano (9), Towse (29)
GOALS: Harrison 0/2
FEATHERSTONE ROVERS: Kheirallah, Briscoe, Leilua, Hankinson, Gale, Aekins, Lacans, Springer, Wildie, Lockwood, Day, Bussey, Moors.
INTERCHANGES: Jones, Davies, Hardcastle, Yei.
TRIES: Leilua (22, 33), Kheirallah (51), Jones (76)
GOALS: Kheirallah 4/5
POINTS SEQUENCE: 4-0, 4-4, 4-6, 8-6, 8-10, 8-12, 8-16, 8-18, 8-22, 8-24.
HALF TIME: 8-10
YORK’S STAR MAN: Josh Daley. It’s hard to look past the hooker turned half-back, who was again one of York’s most consistent performers across a range of positions, and who seems to have no lasting effects from last weekend’s horror spear tackle.
REFEREE: James Vella