PLAYING with freedom, creativity and no little panache, part-timers York City Knights have earned a reputation for being great entertainers in League 1.
Doing that against the likes of London Skolars is one thing but it would not be possible against Super League Catalans Dragons.
Nonsense. James Ford’s thrilling side stuck to their principles and were rewarded yesterday as, for sizeable periods of an enthralling fifth-round tie, they threatened one of the biggest Ladbrokes Challenge Cup shocks in decades.
They were level 10-10 just before the break with Joe Porter – a painter decorator who was playing for local amateurs York Acorn only 18 months ago – having come off the bench to score two barnstorming tries. Indeed, Knights also trailed only 22-16 as late as the 65th minute by which point, star-studded Catalans, already bereft of confidence at the foot of Super League, were so worried Lucas Albert kicked a penalty just to gain breathing space.
It was certainly a fine game for the BBC to pick for live streaming.
Any newcomers from York or beyond in the excellent crowd of 3,018 will no doubt contemplate making use of the ‘£5 off’ offer for next Sunday’s League 1 fixture against West Wales Raiders.
Ford, whose side had won their last seven games and are joint-top of League 1, admitted: “I am very proud. We spoke about wanting to be the hardest-working side on the field and we were certainly up there today.
“The game was in the balance for large parts and unfortunately we weren’t quite good enough to win. We put them under a fair bit of pressure but Catalans were good enough and strong enough to stay in there when we did.
“You wouldn’t have thought there was £1.7m difference between the sides, though.”
Former Wakefield Trinity prop Mickael Simon barged over with the last play of the first half, Albert making it 16-10 to the visitors, but it was not a fair reflection of the half. York had been superb and created the majority of the pressure, forcing four drop-outs and seeing Porter – only paid appearance money – get the crowd on their feet.
Connor Robinson’s varied left-foot kicking game caused Catalans all sorts of problems, former Featherstone hooker Andy Ellis controlled the ruck perfectly, giant prop Adam Robinson was a real handful and there was impressive displays across the field.
When Fouad Yaha scored within five minutes and Robinson sailed his restart dead, York fans would have been forgiven the game would only go one way.
However, winger Ash Robson had a chance after Jodie Broughton missed when trying to intercept Ben Cockayne’s long pass and they forced the first two drop-outs only for two handling errors to let Catalans off the hook.
When Robinson’s 40/20 attempt went narrowly out on the full, Jason Baitieri proved too strong and added the visitors’ second try, Albert improving.
But Robinson drilled the restart dead to gain a third drop-out and York continued to pose questions. They finally got their reward with Porter’s first. Judah Mazive stole the ball from Yaha after he came under pressure from Robinson’s high kick.
Porter then showed his strength to surge through a surprised defence. His second try came soon after, after a lovely short pass from Ellis, and Robinson’s conversion levelled.
In the second period, former Brisbane Broncos full-back David Mead looked to have put Catalans clear when he put Albert over but it did not signal any capitulation.
Instead, the hosts continued being creative, illustrated by a lovely try for Kieren Moss after a quality offload from the brilliant second-row Sam Scott.
Cockayne, the 34-year former Hull KR winger who thrived at stand-off yesterday, continued his fascinating battle with Australia veteran Greg Bird while frustrated Catalans players started arguing between themselves.
It was only late on the visitors finally got a grip with tries from Jodie Broughton and Bird but, fittingly, York scored the final effort via second-row Joe Batchelor, Robinson slotting his third goal.
York City Knights: Moss; Mazive, Butler-Fleming, Hey, Moss; Cockayne, C Robinson; A Robinson, Ellis, Siddons, Batchelor, Scott, Spears. Substitutes: Hawksworth, Normington, Dixon, Porter.
Catalans Dragons: Mead; Broughton, Gigot, Duport, Yaha; Langi, Albert; Maria, McIlorum, Moa, Bird, Garcia, Baiteri. Substitutes: Aiton, Bousquet, Margalet, Simon.
Referee: Chris Kendall (Huddersfield).