WITH A steel band playing in the background, Headingley sounded more like Sabina Park yesterday afternoon, so it would have been fitting had England Knights run up a cricket score against Jamaica, but the Reggae Warriors proved to be made of sterner than expected stuff.
The Knights are England’s second string and coach Paul Anderson selected the cream of Super League’s young talent to go up against a Jamaica squad drawn largely from the Championship and League One.
At half-time England led 28-0 and were on course for a huge win, but Jamaica dug deep and were the better team in the second period. To lose the second half only 10-6 was a remarkable effort from a side which included two players from the Caribbean nation’s domestic competition, starting prop Khamisi McKain and substitute Jenson Morris, alongside a hooker, Danny Thomas, who plies his trade in the National Conference with Dewsbury Celtic.
Jamaica’s stirring effort after the break provided good entertainment for a crowd of 7,113 and they were on their feet when Mason Caton-Brown, one of a handful of players with Super League experience, scored the minnows’ lone try, which James Woodburn-Hall, of Halifax, converted, in the 50th minute.
It was the Knights’ first hit-out since last year’s tour to Papua New Guinea and Anderson was “over the moon” with the way it went.
“In dry conditions in the first half we played some good stuff, our edges were good and we had really good control from our nine, seven, six and one,” he reflected.
And even the poor second-half effort gave the former Huddersfield Giants coach some satisfaction. He added: “If we had kicked on I don’t think it would have done anyone any favours; we wouldn’t have got anything out of it, or learned anything.
“I reckon we can sit down and talk about a lot of things we could have done better, but Jamaica had a really good dig in that second half. We stuck to our guns, scored some tries towards the end and if it had been tight that’s what could have won us the game.”
Jamaica are building up to the World Cup in two years’ time and their coach Romeo Montteith feels going head to head with England’s best young players, in front of a bigger crowd than they are used to, will prove a valuable experience.
“It was one of the best facilities we’ve played in,” he said. “The crowd was wonderful and the occasion was really special. It inspired the boys and this is a really good build-up going into next year and then 2021.”
Greg Minikin, Hull KR’s off-season signing from Castleford Tigers, scored England’s first three tries, inside 19 minutes and Tom Lineham and Toby King also crossed before the interval. Lineham added a second in the final quarter and Joe Greenwood scored Knights’ seventh touchdown. Danny Richardson, signed by Castleford Tigers from St Helens, impressed in general play and kicked five conversions.
England Knights: Evalds, Lineham, Newman, King, Minikin, H Smith, Richardson, Butler, Powell, Partington, Greenwood, C Smith, Smithies. Substitutes: Leeming, Oledzki, English, Ashworth.
Jamaica: Golding, Jones-Bishop, Caton-Brown, Brown, Johnson, Coleman, Woodburn-Hall. McKain, Thomas, Magrin, Tomlinson, Farrell, Lawrence. Substitutes: Peltier, Andrade, Agoro, Morris.
Referee: B Thaler (Wakefield).