York City Knights v Featherstone Rovers – Rob Leatham reports

Two teams who fancy themselves this season as top contenders for the tittle were going head-to-head.

The Featherstone Rovers were unbeaten going into this match and the York City Knights had won two games in a row. Whoever won this one would certainly set down a marker for the season ahead.

There were several changes for the Knights with Connor Wynn being called back to Hull FC and Kiran Dixon playing at full back. Tim Spears was also called back into the line up playing at loose forward. Mr marvellous Matty Marsh had scored 6 tries in 4 matches and many fancied him to continue his run. The team was set for an epic encounter.

From the first set it was clear that this was going to be a physical encounter. The first 5 minutes of the game passed in a flash with both sides completing their sets well. It was York that broke the deadlock with a fantastic break from Riley Dean which was then finished by Matty Marsh right under the posts. Kiran Dixon added the extras and York were 6:0 up.

From the kick-off Featherstone faltered kicking the ball out on the full and York were in good field position. York completed another good set falling just short of the line. The Knights were certainly up for the contest.

Despite this Featherstone Rovers would be the next to score. Gareth Gail shrugged off the Knights defence running in from 20 metres out. He has been free scoring off late and he made the try look easy. The kick was however missed, and the Knights lead 6:4.   In the 10 minutes that followed the Knights were put under a lot of pressure and found it hard to get out of their own half at times. Featherstone however could not break the Knights line. Riley Dean and Matty Marsh put some big kicks for field position at the end of sets.

The Knights fortunes would turn when Davis was sin binned for a high tackle. York then opted not to go for the two points but to play.

The gamble paid off when Liam Salter crashed over the line after a quick restart. Kiran Dixon looked like the real deal out there and added two points to make the scores 12:6. There was 10 minutes left of play and although Featherstone appeared to have the majority of the field position York continued to play with belief.   With five minutes left on the clock Featherstone almost scored. Craig Hall burst through the line but Danny Kirkmond pulled of the impossible completing a marvellous challenge and running the ball out. Featherstone continued to bombard the Knights defence and the knights continued to withstand the barrage. This was the York Knights we adored in 2019, fighting hard for each other and refusing to crumble.

Just before the half York conceded a penalty. Brown converted for the Rovers and the Knights lead at the half 12:6. This really was an incredible advert for championship rugby and the second half was going to be just as hard fought.

Second half

Featherstone came out strong in the second half and forced a drop out from their opening set. They were then rewarded moments later when Will Jubb was penalised for laying in the playoff of the ball. Ryan Atkins would complete a huge tackle to deny the Rovers and win the ball back for the Knights.

After a bit of a scuffle play resumed. York made good field position but Ben Jones Bishop was caught offside and Featherstone drove at the Knights line again. Twice York had held the Rovers on the line and they continued to do so for the first 10 minutes of the second half.

Joe Porter touched the ball down 13 minutes in as the Knights made their way into the Featherstone half. On the last tackle a kick went up but Porter was deemed to have tumbled. Minutes later York forced Featherstone to make a mistake and retrieved the ball in an attacking position. It was York’s turn to attack but Green and Dean were held on the line and the Rovers held out.

Featherstone drove hard at York once again and Gareth Gail went in for a try. He replicated what he had done in the first half and danced his way to the line. Featherstone reminded York that they have pace and threat out wide.

The scores were now York 12 and Rovers 10. York were starting to tire and after two penalties, one given against Atkins for passing the ball from the ground and one for offside, the scores were 12:12. The Knights needed territory and a break from defending.

The focus on the game changed as the last ten minutes approached and a drop goal began to come into the equation with both sides making good metres. York carried out a creative piece of play against Featherstone by making them believe the drop kick was coming before Dean made a run for it. But the ball was thumbed and the attack came to no avail. Featherstone then came up the other end of the field opting to go for the line. York held out.

With 75 minutes on the clock the Knights made their way up the field. Riley Dean went for the posts with a drop kick but the ball scuffed wide. The Knights retrieved the ball seconds later and drove into a drop-kicking position. Dean lined it up but the ball ricocheted off the Featherstone defence.

Hall took the ball and drove it 80 metres up the field to score. The score was 16:12 to the Rovers with only two minutes on the clock left to play.

With 50 seconds left on the clock Featherstone took the ball in for what would be the last set off the match. Sometimes Rugby League can be cruel and the Knights did not deserve to lose this tie. It was even and well fought throughout but all credit to the Rovers as they continued to push the Knights line and it paid dividends in the end. York will look to bounce back against the Widnes Vikings who lost 70:0 against Toulouse this week. Both teams will go toe to toe at the Holton next week.