Brave Knights edged out in Play-Off epic: Sunday 24th September - League 1
By Oli Breslin
A heart-breaking 105th minute Golden Point extra-time Ste Roper drop goal ended York City Knights’ promotion push at the Recreation Ground on Sunday.
James Ford’s men had fought back from 10 points behind in the final 15 minutes to end a gruelling 80 minutes level with Whitehaven at 20-all, only for the veteran half-back to slot over a one-pointer in the longest ever competitive rugby league match.
The platform for Haven’s golden point winner came after a failed drop goal attempt saw the ball cannon off referee Jon McMullen before going dead, resulting with the hosts being awarded head and feed at the subsequent scrum.
Ash Robson, returning at full-back after suspension, got York off to the perfect start; the home side knocked on, presenting the Knights with a golden opportunity. From the scrum, the ball was shipped out to the left where Robson danced his way through a gap to score the games’ first try. Connor Robinson added the extras to make it 6-0.
Whitehaven winger Elliott Miller fumbled a huge bomb from Connor Robinson giving York another opportunity, and the sensational Joe Batchelor crashed over from close range, giving the Knights a 10-0 lead after 13 minutes.
The Cumbrians were later penalised for interference at the play the ball 30 metres out close to the right touchline, Connor Robinson narrowly missed his penalty attempt before Haven began to pile on the pressure.
The visitors withstood three successive sets – two of those sets inside their 20 metre-zone – before Whitehaven eventually posted their first points of the game when Jesse Joe Parker powered over under the posts from close range. Paul Crook’s conversion narrowed York’s lead to four points.
As the rain began to fall, both sides were struggling to retain possession, leading to a scrappy, stop-start spell as half-time approached. As the hooter sounded, Tommy Holland celebrated a try after steaming on to a short-ball in front of the posts, Crook’s simple conversion meant the hosts led at the interval.
Early in the second half, a burst out of dummy-half from Liam Harris saw Dion Aiye stick out his leg to halt the young half-back’s progress, earning the Haven man 10 minutes in the sin-bin.
But Whitehaven would double their lead despite being a man short; the Knights penalised for interference and Crook slotted over another two-pointer – 14-10.
A break down the right might have seen York draw level, but James Haynes pass to winger Nev Morrison drifted forward. Instead, York fell further behind.
Harris’ kick was easily gathered by Chris Taylor, who set off from close to his own line and would have scored a sensational solo effort had it not been for the chasing Batchelor. However, the second-rower’s try-saving tackle only put off the inevitable as the home side moved the ball to the left-wing where Parker was waiting in acres of space to score. Crook maintained his 100% success rate with the boot and York now had a mountain to climb as the rain became more consistent and the ground heavier.
But climb it they did. After forcing a goal line drop out York were awarded a penalty for a high shot on Chris Siddons. From close range, Andy Ellis threw two dummies before sneaking over close to the posts; Connor Robinson converted to reduce the arrears to four points with 12 minutes to go.
Robson bagged his second try of the afternoon following a Connor Robinson grubber kick and the scores were all square. The half-back’s conversion attempt was flagged as unsuccessful, despite the player himself believing he had goaled it.
Both teams failed with woeful drop-goal attempts before the full-time hooter – the almost boggy playing surface not conducive to one-pointers.
As the first period of extra time got underway the rain was teeming down, a combination of the weather and the palpable tension probably explained both sides’ knocking on in the early going.
Then, after a couple of wayward attempts, the home side came within a whisker of winning the tie; Crook’s drop-goal attempt striking the left upright as York clung on.
Given the conditions, York seemed happier searching for the elusive points via a different method, but the hosts defence dealt well with Harris and Connor Robinson’s attacking kicks.
Into the second-half of extra-time and both side’s saw drop-goal attempts charged down before the hooter went after 10 minutes, but the game continued.
Something had to give and eventually Whitehaven sustained some pressure in York’s 40-metre zone, before winning a scrum from a failed drop-goal attempt. From it they set up the opportunity for Roper to slot over a well-taken Golden Point drop-goal to end an incredible Knights’ season.