York City Knights 12 Featherstone Rovers 30: Favourites Featherstone up and running

FOR ANYONE tuning into Premier Sports’ new Monday night coverage of the Betfred Championship, there will likely be plenty of return viewers after this entertaining opener.

Predictably, Featherstone Rovers, the competition favourites, came home in the end but they were made to work hard by competitive hosts York City Knights.

Featherstone did not name their star NRL signing Joey Leilua or Dane Chisholm, the Australian stand-off who had an eight-game ban overturned last week.

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Nevertheless, it is a sign of the strength in depth of Brian McDermott’s side that their absence did not affect them in the slightest.

Morgan Smith, the half-back who joined his hometown club from York in the autumn, pulled the strings brilliantly behind a hard-working pack that had the ever-reliable John Davies and Jack Bussey in excellent form.

It will have been an enjoyable evening for Smith, the 23-year-old who never played a game for York after cruelly rupturing his ACL in pre-season training this time last year.

Grandson of Featherstone legend Peter Smith, he certainly showed no ill-effects from that injury as he regularly toyed with his former employer’s defence.

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Moreover, at the start of the second period when James Ford’s side trailed just 12-6, the ex-London Broncos playmaker produced an amazing try-saving tackle on Jack Logan after York kept the ball alive wonderfully on the last tackle.

Featherstone Rovers' Craig Hall goes away from York City Knights. (ALLAN MCKENZIE/SWPIX)Featherstone Rovers' Craig Hall goes away from York City Knights. (ALLAN MCKENZIE/SWPIX)
Featherstone Rovers' Craig Hall goes away from York City Knights. (ALLAN MCKENZIE/SWPIX)

It was crucial; just a couple of minutes later, after James Lockwood went close, Featherstone scored via Josh Hardcastle after Brandon Pickersgill, the full-back on debut after joining from Bradford Bulls, found some rare space out wide.

In truth, Featherstone, desperate to reach Super League after losing the last two promotion deciders, never looked like slipping up from there.

Craig Hall improved and Pickersgill thought he was over himself after Jon Davies raced down the middle in the restart set but Matty Marsh came across to deny him.

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Nevertheless, when York erred near their own line, Luke Briscoe did secure Featherstone’s fourth try with a splendid finish in the right corner from Pickersgill’s assist.

York City Knights' Jordan Thompson on the charge (ALLAN MCKENZIE/SWPIX)York City Knights' Jordan Thompson on the charge (ALLAN MCKENZIE/SWPIX)
York City Knights' Jordan Thompson on the charge (ALLAN MCKENZIE/SWPIX)

York should have responded when Chris Clarkson sent Will Oakes tip-toeing down the left touchline but Logan failed to take the return pass with the line begging.

Still, they got their reward after Pauli Pauli - the giant former Wakefield Trinity back-row who had a predictably ferocious battle with Junior Moors - rumbled forward for Will Jubb to dive over from dummy-half.

Jamie Ellis added his second conversion.

Any hopes of recovering the deficit, though, were quickly extinguished as Hall, the reigning Championship Player of the Year who looked as stylish as ever in Featherstone’s left centre, quickly weaved his way over.

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Featherstone Rovers' Luke Briscoe touches down. (ALLAN MCKENZIE/SWPIX)Featherstone Rovers' Luke Briscoe touches down. (ALLAN MCKENZIE/SWPIX)
Featherstone Rovers' Luke Briscoe touches down. (ALLAN MCKENZIE/SWPIX)

He also added a penalty on the final hooter but things had not started well for his side.

Ex-Castleford Tigers star Jesse Sene-Lefao saw his debut last just six minutes.

The Samoan second-row got over the York goalline from Smith’s clever short pass and seemed certain to score.

However, Marsh managed to poke the ball clear from his grasp and, to add insult to injury, Sene-Lefao dislocated his shoulder as he went to ground.

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York started positively, Jordan Thompson setting the lead from loose forward with a series of strong carries.

However, too often they rushed the final pass and came away with nothing for their effort while their last plays lacked conviction, too.

Featherstone were similarly sloppy initially, Tom Holmes twice hoisting kicks that sailed directly into touch.

But Smith got them going with the opener in the 20th minute after straightening up nicely off Holmes’ short pass and, when Thompson fumbled as he approached halfway, Rovers quickly capitalised with their second.

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This time it was Smith who was the provider, his delicate pass inviting the strong-running Bussey to charge over.

Hall converted both tries but York hit back when Joe Brown rose high to palm down Ellis’ kick for James Glover.

Unfortunately, they could not ever gain parity but, with a crowd of 3,602, their biggest since moving to the LNER Community Stadium, this remained a positive night for the club, not just for Featherstone.

York City Knights: Harrison; Brown, Glover, Logan, Oakes; Marsh, Ellis; Matongo, Jubb, Michael, Clarkson, Kirmond, Thompson. Substitutes: Brining, Teanby, Stock, Pauli.

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Featherstone Rovers: Pickersgill; Briscoe, Hardcastle, Hall, Gale; Holmes, Smith; Cooper, Wildie, Lockwood, Moors, Sene-Lefao, Bussey. Substitutes: Jones, Davies, Trout, Field.

Referee: Jack Smith (Wigan)

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