Report: Knights’ display makes a mockery of SL hopes for deregulation

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York City Knights 22-34 Catalans Dragons

Over the last few months, there has been noises coming from the top of rugby league that suggest the deregulation of the third tier of the game in the UK is a potential way forward for the game, suggesting that they don’t offer enough to the game.

Since that came out, there have been plenty of games in Betfred League 1 which have showcased the talent and competition in the division and James Ford’s York City Knights have been at the forefront of that; after losing 22-20 to a late Bradford Bulls penalty on the opening day, the Knights have won every other league game so far – including away at two of their promotion rivals Doncaster and Oldham. Furthermore, they knocked out Championship outfit Swinton in the fourth round of the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup which saw them earn the prize tie of Catalans Dragons which saw the Knights knocked out of the competition.

That, however, doesn’t tell half the story. In the build up to the game, the Knights’ media team and, in fact, everybody involved in the club promoted the game far and wide. A van drove around the city with a screen advertising the match on the back and, when the Challenge Cup trophy itself arrived in the city, it was taken to schools, sports clubs and the local hospital to demonstrate the community links York City Knights – and many other lower division teams – are proud to maintain. The suggestion that the Knights may be one of those teams was made a mockery of at Bootham Crescent on Sunday as over 3000 fans packed in to see their heroes push their full-time visitors all the way with Catalans eventually prevailing 34-22. The York team had the perfect blend of youngsters and experience with the likes of Judah Mazive, Connor Robinson and Joe Batchelor lining up alongside the likes of Andy Ellis and Tim Spears, the latter two being old war horses of the sport, both of whom exemplify the professionalism and hard graft which has personified Ford’s team during his Knights’ tenure.

While the League 1 team fell short against the Dragons, it is the Knights who earned all the plaudits for their performance. While some teams may have sought to keep the game tight and to prioritise avoiding humiliation over trying to win, York did no such thing and the BBC’s Dave Woods and guest commentator Jamie Jones-Buchanan testified to the technical ability and solidity shown by the Knights. After going 10-0 down just after 20 minutes, the hosts didn’t give up and got the scores back level shortly before half time thanks to two tries from local boy Joe Porter whose celebrations showed just what the match and the Knights jersey meant to him. The try scorer was playing for local outfit York Acorn in the National Conference League not long ago and he isn’t the first player the Knights have offered the chance for local amateurs to make the step up. That alone is a testament to what they offer the game in the lower leagues. The build up to both of Porter’s tries showcased York’s creativity and desire to put serious pressure on the Dragons and, despite conceding again seconds before the half time hooter, they stuck in the game in the second half.

Trailing 16-10 heading into the sheds, they shortly went a further six points behind following a Catalans try which was preceeded by a strange call where the visitors seemed to drop the ball but were instead awarded another set. Alas, it was 22-10 but Kieran Moss, the Australian on loan from York’s dual-registration partners Hull KR, halved the deficit after second rower Sam Scott showed tremendous skill to offload close to the line to give Moss the easiest of finishes, leaving the League 1 part-timers a mere six points behind their visitors with 25 minutes remaining.

Shortly after that, the Dragons – who, by the way, were at full strength barring the absences of Luke Walsh and Remi Casty through injury – paid York a hell of a compliment by kicking for two points, putting the Frenchmen 8 points ahead at 24-16. Two quickfire tries from Jodie Broughton and Greg Bird saw their lead further extend beyond probably what they deserved but York had the last laugh with Joe Batchelor – brother of Wakefield’s James – crossing for a try after some quick thinking as the ball ricocheted around in the left corner.

York have certainly done the lower leagues proud and James Ford’s outfit showcased their potential superbly throughout what was an incredible afternoon at Bootham Crescent. Ford, himself a highly regarded young coach, will also have done his chances of a job higher up the pyramid no harm. However, why would he want to leave the progressive outfit when their potential right now looks huge?

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