Sheffield Eagles 6 York City Knights 30 - Brendan O’Hagan inspires Knights past rusty Eagles on opening night
Nevertheless, a 30-6 scoreline against their Championship rivals Sheffield Eagles did not give a true reflection of just how arduous their passage was.
Winger Perry Whiteley scored two tries, his second after a wonderful cut-out pass from Hagan on the hour mark, and Ben Jones-Bishop – one of James Ford’s Super League signings – also crossed on his competitive debut for the club.
But Sheffield, with Joel Farrell and Oliver Davies gritty throughout, were highly competitive, especially given the circumstances; coronovirus shutdown the 2020 season last March and this was their first game since.
So, after waiting 370 days to play a game of rugby league, they must have thought it was some sort of joke when – all ready to unleash more than a year of frustration – kick-off was momtentarily held up.
Referee Tom Grant had an issue with his microphone.
He wasn’t the only one having problems with technology; from his position in the stands, Sheffield coach Mark Aston could not communicate with some of his coaching staff on the touchline.
There was a lack of commuication on the field, too, initially, as Sheffield conceded after barely three minutes, Whiteley getting his first after latching on to a pinpoint O’Hagan grubber and Kieran Dixon converting.
Still, just as Aston sorted his earpiece out, so his side sorted their approach.
They proved competitive and, aided by some poor York ill-discipline and the telling promptings of veteran scrum-half Anthony Thackeray, were able to enjoy most of the play in the first period.
The Eagles merited their try when Greg Burns dummied over from acting-half in the 16th minute, Izaac Farrell’s conversion levelling the contest.
York – who benefitted from a run-out against Hull FC last week – were shaky under the high ball, too, and with a lack of precision in some of their passing, the hosts were encouraged further.
However, Aston’s side – understandably given the length of their lay-off – generally lacked the crispness of pass required to truly hurt what was an excellent City Knights defence.
The game had been finely poised at 6-6 until York – having had little opportunity of note – scored back-to-back tries to surge 18-6 ahead on 35 minutes.
The first was soft defensively, dummy-half Kris Brinning going over from close range, but the second was slick.
From the restart, James Green – the former Hull KR prop who had made such an impression off the bench – charged forward and made good metres.
At the next play, fellow replacement forward Marcus Stock cut a lovely line behind the ruck and ex-Wakefield Trinity winger Jones-Bishop – playing at full-back – was on hand to race in from 50 metres up the middle.To rub salt into the wound, Dixon improved both and then, after a dangerous Aaron Brown tackle, slotted a 40m penalty with the last play of the half for a 20-6 interval lead.Jones-Bishop should have added another at the start of the second period as he picked up a loose Sheffield pass and raced clear. However, the Grand Final winner was chased down by a remarkable try-saving tackle from Sheffield second-row Oliver Davies.
Hooker Brinning had to depart with what looked like a hamstring strain when sprinting clear in the 50th minute.
Sheffield wasted another couple of opportunities before O’Hagan’s superb pass cut them open for Whiteley to score his second.
Former England centre Ryan Atkins added York’s last try with the final play and they will play the winner of today’s tie between London Broncos and Keighley Cougars next week.
Sheffield Eagles: Guzdek; Worrincy, Johnson, Glover, Millar; I Farrell, Thackeray; Knowles, Burns, James, Davies, J Farrell, Brown. Substitutes: Ward, Dickinson, Broadbent, Burns.
York City Knights: Jones-Bishop; Whiteley, Bass, Atkins, Dixon; O’Hagan, Marsh; Baldwinson, Jubb, Teanby, Kirmond, Clarkson, Washbrook. Substitutes: Brinning, Porter, Stock, Green.
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