Positives for York City Knights despite Yorkshire Cup semi-final loss at Batley Bulldogs: Sunday 13th January - Pre-Season
Luckless York City Knights lost their Yorkshire Cup semi-final at Batley Bulldogs but the positives outweighed the negatives in the build-up to their Championship campaign.
The Knights went to the inappropriately named Mount Pleasant shorn of half a dozen players and, taking on Championship old-hands at near full-strength on their infamous sloping pitch, only succumbed 22-18 to a try three minutes from time having seen sub Reece Rushworth sin-binned two minutes earlier.
York – aided by two super tries – had built an 18-0 lead but that advantage seemed slight given the fact they would be facing the hill and a wild gale in the second period, especially when the hosts cut the interval deficit to 18-6 on the hooter.
However, while it resembled the Alamo at times thereafter as Batley pummelled away at the bottom of their hill, the Knights displayed the kind of manful defensive effort that helped them win League One last year, and it seemed they would get over the line again here, until that late twist.
Still, a few tweaks here and there and a first-teamer or two more, and York would have won. It was certainly a far cry from the Knights’ previous seven visits here down the years – seven defeats, many of them heavy.
Captain Tim Spears, still yet to play this winter, was not fit after picking up a knee injury in training, so boss James Ford had only 18 fit players to call on, two short of the number permitted in this pre-season competition.
Hooker Harry Carter, full-back Matt Chilton and forwards Ronan Dixon, Jack Blagbrough, Joe Porter and long-term crock Sam Scott were all out too.
Half-back Connor Robinson passed fit, though, while second-row Mike Kelly had his first run-out of pre-season after overcoming his green issue.
Carter’s absence meant that, while Dave Petersen could have filled in at hooker, Will Jubb did the full 80 minutes in that role, being among York’s standout performers along with Jack Teanby and classy veteran Graeme Horne.
Brad Hey was also good in the centres and Perry Whiteley looked strong in possession having been switched to the wing.
York, having kicked off downhill, survived an early scare following a handling error from Dave Petersen.
But they went close themselves, with Jason Bass and Ben Cockayne denied at the whitewash on repeat sets.
They then scored a try they will struggle to top all year.
A set move down the right turned into some stunning off-the-cuff rugby as centre Bass, tackled, got a great pass out of the back door to Whiteley, who fed it inside to Matty Marsh. The full-back offloaded expertly to Cockayne who did likewise to give Jubb the chance to finish.
Robinson added the extras and should have set up the next try too after breaking through down the inside left but his pass above winger Judah Mazive’s head was not taken in.
York’s defence got a taste of things to come when Batley pressed for a leveller midway through the half.
Liam Salter had smartly covered a kick by his posts but the defence cutely waited for him to get to his feet, in order to have a chance of tackling him into his in-goal area, and referee Jack Smith duly penalised the second-row for a voluntary tackle as he stayed down.
The Bulldogs were repelled though, even after a fortunate repeat set.
The Knights, having perhaps not made the most of the elements, increased their lead out of nothing six minutes before half-time.
Robinson and Hey made ground on the left, then prop Horne dummied through a gap and strode to the line from 25 metres.
Almost immediately, Marsh was sent home by Cockayne after a set move in centrefield had put the stand-off through the line.
Robinson converted both and it was 18-0.
Batley gave themselves a timely lift, though, after Robinson could not take the restart that had held up in the wind. Their set in the red zone ended with hooker Alistair Leak digging in from dummy-half, Dave Scott converting.
The Bulldogs scored twice more inside five minutes of the resumption.
Firstly, on the back of a penalty harshly awarded against Jubb, a move to the left had York’s defence stretched and winger Johnny Campbell sprinted home.
Then a brilliantly weighted kick from Dom Brambani was taken and touched down – unchallenged despite being surrounded – by sub Lewis Galbraith, with Louis Jouffret converting.
This suggested the Bulldogs, a different animal down the hill, would run away with the second half, but this was not to be.
After York sub full-back Ash Robson fumbled a kick, the hosts tried to turn the screw – Paul Brearley and Dane Manning both held up over the try-line before a penalty on the last tackle gave them another set. York by now, though, had their resolute heads on.
The visitors had only one set in Batley territory in the third quarter and the penalties and pressure were racking up against them.
When Brambani kicked again, like for their third try, another score looked certain, but this time the man was halted and, when the ball went out, the scrambling defence was superb – Robson and Mazive somehow taking Keenen Tomlinson into touch.
York dug deep to give themselves respite, Cockayne’s smart grubber at the end of a tough set forcing a dropout.
From it, Cockayne so nearly slipped in former Hull KR team-mate Salter, the second-row held up over the whitewash.
After more defensive efforts at the bottom of the hill, the Knights nearly stretched their lead five minutes from time but Jubb could not quite gather in Robinson’s grubber.
Instead, Batley won the tie.
The Knights were already on a team warning for persistent offending (in the eyes of referee White) and trialist Rushworth was the luckless one to be yellow-carded when another decision went against the visitors.
With a slope, wind and now man advantage, the Bulldogs scored through Tyler Dickinson from close range.
Batley: Scott, Reittie, Smeaton, Wood, Campbell, Jouffret, Brambani, Everett, Leak, Dickinson, Downs, Manning, Tomlinson. Subs (all used): Brown, Galbraith, Hemingway, Bretherton, Ward, Yates.
Tries: Leak (40), Campbell (43), Galbraith (45), Dickinson (77).
Goals: Scott (1/1), Jouffret (2/3).
Knights: Marsh, Mazive, Bass, Hey, Whiteley, Cockayne, Robinson, Horne, Jubb, Teanby, Kelly, Salter, Petersen. Subs (all used): Robson, Jordan-Roberts, Rushworth, Stock, Brown.
Tries: Jubb (10), Horne (34), Marsh (36).
Goals: Robinson (3/3).
Sin-binned: Rushworth 75.
Referee: Jack Smith (Wigan).
Isaac Poad Man of the Match: Matty Marsh