York City Knights 0 Toronto Wolfpack 14: Forward-thinking Ford full of praise for York’s hard graft

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WITH IT being Super Bowl last night, York City Knights coach James Ford’s comments were very fitting after an absorbing opening Championship encounter against Toronto Wolfpack.

His promoted part-time side gave a fine account of themselves back in the second tier, causing the big-spending Canadian outfit plenty of problems before eventually succumbing.

Knights' Brad Hey looks for support. Picture Tony Johnson.

Knights' Brad Hey looks for support. Picture Tony Johnson.

Indeed, they had only trailed 4-0 until Matty Russell, the former Warrington Wolves winger, calmed Toronto nerves with his 69th-minute try.

It came, however, via a blatant forward pass from Samoa centre Ricky Leutele, an NRL Grand Final winner with Cronulla Sharks whose reported £250,000 salary is more than the entire York squad’s put together.

“Any Canadian supporters watching – and I hope they are as we want to expand the game – just to clarify, in rugby league we generally pass the ball backwards,” said Ford.

“Sometimes officials just get things wrong and that could be one of those occasions.”

He was not, in any way, suggesting that decision was game-deciding, though.

Far from it. As expected, Toronto really applied the pressure late on, Joe Mellor rewarded with a try on debut following his move from Widnes Vikings, Gareth O’Brien slotting his only conversion.

Still, it would have made it all the more interesting if York – so spirited and energised throughout – had gone into those final minutes still just four points behind.

Memorably, they had beaten Toronto in 2017, the only side to do so in the Canadian club’s inaugural year and so some York supporters dared to consider another upset being on the cards here.

They defended with such vigour and resilience, three times holding Wolfpack players up over their goalline and twice bundling Russell into touch with superb cover defence, even when the game was lost.

“There’s lots of togetherness here,” admitted Ford, whose squad is assembled for around 10 times less than their opponents.

“We pride ourselves on being the hardest-working side and I thought we worked tremendously hard.

“We were in the game for 60 or 70 minutes.

“There’s lots of promise but ultimately we were not quite good enough to win.

“Credit to Toronto. Defensively they were superb. I think that’s the first time we’ve been nilled since I’ve been here.

“They looked quality. They’ll take some beating this year,” he added.

That is no surprise; among their new glitterati in 2019 as they bid to overcome the disappointment of losing the Million Pound Game to 
London Broncos is former England and St Helens star Jon Wilkin.

He joins the likes of Leutele, ex-Kiwi centre Chase Stanley and former Canberra Raiders stand-off Josh McCrone as well as Super League stalwarts like Ashton Sims and O’Brien.

It was the first competitive game in charge of Toronto for Brian McDermott, the Grand Final-winning coach sacked by Leeds Rhinos last July, and he will immediately know getting out of this division will not be simple.

“York’s defence was outstanding,” McDermott said.

“You have to give them credit. We threw a hell of a lot at them and we just could not break them down.

“But at least three or four times in the game we probably should have scored a try and the only reason we didn’t was because of York’s defence; it was outstanding.

“Ours was well, mind; we kept turning up.”

For York, stand-off Ben Cockayne put in some fierce hits, his former Hull KR team-mate Graeme Horne was colossal in his first stint and also sent another impressive forward – Jack Treanby – surging through with their best chance in the second period.

Fellow front-row Ronan Dixon added real impetus and Conor Robinson’s long-kicking game – not so much his short – was impressive.

However, the game essentially boiled down to Gary Wheeler’s 24th-minute try following a fine Stanley flick pass.

York City Knights: Marsh; Robson, Bass, Hey, Whiteley; Cockayne, Robinson; Horne, Jubb, Teanby, Jordan-Roberts, Salter, Petersen. Substitutes: Brining, Blagborough, Dixon, Porter.

Toronto Wolfpack: O’Brien; Wheeler, Stanley, Leutele, Russell; Mellor, McCrone; Sims, Ackers, Olbison, Dixon, Thompson, Wilkin. Substitutes: Wallace, Sidlow, Lussick, Springer.

Referee: G Hewer (Whitehaven)