North Wales Crusaders: Sunday 19th February - League 1 Cup
Report Courtesy of Peter Martini and The York Press
YORK City Knights fans were treated to a fast-paced but at times harem scarem match with which to kick off the season – and ultimately it ended in extra-time agony.
James Ford’s men came back impressively from a stack of early pressure to build a 16-4 lead, but, with the League One Cup first round tie seemingly in the bag, visitors North Wales Crusaders were afforded a way back – and scored a try out of nothing with the last play of the match to make it 16-14.
Full-back Tommy Johnson held his nerve to kick a wonderful conversion from the touchline to take the tie into golden-point extra time.
Stand-off Jack Handsome then won it with their first opportunity, nailing a 35-metre drop goal for a 17-16 win after York had themselves fluffed a better position.
It was harsh on this new, young Knights outfit who will not now follow their 2016 predecessors in reaching the final of this competition, but, hopefully, they will learn lessons from the pain as the rebuilding process continues.
There was no lack of effort but head coach James Ford bemoaned a lack of structure in good ball, plus refereeing interpretations around the ruck. That effort was most evident in the opening half-hour – although the first lesson to be learned is not concede so many penalties. Three consecutive free-kicks gave North Wales a great chance but York’s defence passed that early test, forcing the Crusaders out of bounds. Nev Morrison then dropped the ball from the scrum but again the defence held out, before a penalty finally brought relief.
Still, two more penalties for offside – the referee earning the wrath of the home support – brought a team warning, and the visitors forced a dropout to turn the screw.
A penalty for a high tackle followed and Chris Siddons was duly sin-binned. But the 12 men showed this side are made of stern stuff, and Ed Smith’s huge tackle on big Crusaders sub John Cookson lifted the home support and left the visiting prop needing treatment too.
However, the pressure had to tell, especially with the game played at such frantic pace. Eventually, James Haynes’ missed tackle opened a little space, and a kick ahead gave Dale Bloomfield the chance to score, Tommy Brierley’s claims of a foot in touch being waved away as the deadlock was broken 28 minutes in.
That early effort may well have taken its toll ultimately too, mental fatigue later on perhaps a factor as York threw the game away. York nevertheless went ahead after a decision finally went their way. Two penalties for reefing set the field position and, when Ash Robson’s potentially scoring pass to the left flank was deflected by a defender’s desperate hand into the in-goal area, Morrison pounced. Harry Tyson-Wilson’s conversion was excellent.
Dee Foggin-Johnston was tackled into touch by the flag when York next threatened, Morrison squeezing out the pass to give him only a quarter-chance. The pair next combined to shove Dan Price ten metres back in-goal to bring a dropout and more cheer.
Then, after another penalty, sub hooker Pat Smith darted in from dummy-half, Tyson-Wilson goaling to make it 12-4 on the hooter, the Knights having turned momentum around. Smith was one of only a handful of players who have stayed at the club since the troubled end to last season, the turnaround in playing staff highlighted by the fact only a trio of the 12-man party that travelled to Toulouse Olympique for the play-off semi-final in September were involved here – James Haynes, new skipper Ed Smith and Brad Hey.
Ford has hailed the potential in this new group but their inexperience was apparent in the second half as they conspired to lose a game they probably deserved to win.
They increased their lead seven minutes in thanks to a star in the new set-up, Ash Robson. The former Castleford full-back was one of the marquee signings of the winter, and his finish in the left corner showed Super League class.
Brilliant hands on the right flank by Robson and Haynes then saw Tommy Brierley go close, too. But North Wales struck back just before the hour, a reverse pass putting Johnson through to touch down and convert.
The game retained its pace, some argy bargy lifting the adrenalin, with a wonderful kick chase soon trapping the Crusaders in goal. A penalty followed and York could have gone two scores ahead. However, the shot at goal was fluffed by Tyson-Wilson and they paid the price at the death as a kick at the other end bounced favourably for Dan Price to sprint into the corner, despite Foggin-Johnston’s desperate tracking back.
Johnson’s conversion was quality.
York forged the first chance of extra time after an excellent 85-metre opening set from one end to the other but they lacked organisation when it mattered most and Robson’s hurried attempt at a drop goal dribbled along the floor. Handsome then showed how it should be done – the Crusaders, winners of this trophy in 2015, heading into the second round of this year’s comp.