In the biggest upset of the Kingstone Press League One season and perhaps one of the greatest upsets in professional rugby league history, the York City Knights have stunned the competition leading Toronto Wolfpack with an 8 point victory. The opening Super 8s fixture for both sides was played in front of a boisterous crowd at Bootham Crescent. The Knights held on after shutting out the Wolfpack with an 18-0 first half. Playmaker Liam Harris starred for the Knights with two tries and a try assist.
Toronto’s poor discipline and handling errors invited the Knights to take the ascendancy in the opening exchanges. The Wolfpack were penalised four times in the first 12 minutes. In contrast, York City looked slick in attack with dangerous backline moves and very few handling errors. On the other side of the ball the Knights brought a high level of intensity with fast line speed to contain the larger Toronto forward pack.
On debut for the Knights, Australian centre Jake Butler-Fleming opened the scoring after scooping up a bouncing pass and stepping past Toronto fullback Quentin Laulu-Togaga’e. With their first quality attacking opportunity after being starved of quality field position and possession, Toronto looked to have evened the scoring but the last pass to a rampaging James Laithwaite was ruled forward.
Liam Harris capitalized on a Wolfpack error by collecting a ball dropped by Laulu-Togaga’e before running 40 metres untouched to extend the Knights’ lead to 12. Replays showed a York City player had knocked the ball on prior to Laulu-Togaga’e, but with no video referee the try counted. After the try was awarded Wolfpack halfback Ryan Brierley was sin binned for dissent.
Down their chief playmaker and with only 12 men on the field, the usually clinical Wolfpack struggled to execute their set moves and their fifth tackle options were poor. The Wolfpack were tackled on the last on several occasions and finished other sets with poor kicks. Conversely, York City Knights playmaker Tommy Robinson capped the Knights’ sets with downtown kicks which gained significant distance and were directed away from Toronto’s back three.
On the stroke of halftime Liam Harris dummied and cut through the defensive line before stepping Toronto’s fullback to complete a brace to the delight of the home crowd.
The opening five minutes of the second half was a return to Toronto’s season form with back to back tries to Ryan Brierley and Bob Beswick. Beswick charged over from dummy half with marquee prop Fui Fui Moi Moi attracting three Knights defenders close to the try line. With their lead cut to just six points, the Knights’ intensity dropped resulting in slower defensive line speed and less ground made with ball in hand.
The Wolfpack’s ill-discipline let them down again with a high shot 20 metres out and in front of the goal posts gifting York City two points and a two score lead. Following a turnover in York City’s territory Wolfpack centre Craig Hall outmuscled a York City defender one on one to score in the corner.
Just when the momentum appeared to have shifted in the visitors’ favour, starting lock Jack Bussey was sin binned for a dangerous tackle. York City took advantage of the extra man with a try to Robinson who supported a line break on York City’s right edge to extend their lead to 10 points.
A controversial no try ruling for Wolfpack winger Jonny Pownall with five minutes to go eliminated any chances of a late comeback. Pownall was ruled to have lost the ball before grounding it in goal.
The loss for the Wolfpack will act as a wake up call for the competition front-runners as they seek automatic promotion in the Super 8s phase of the competition. It was a huge win for York City who have improved their chances of finishing in the top 5 and thus entering the playoffs for a second promotion spot.
York City Knights 26 Tries: Butler-Fleming (13), Harris (19, 40), Robinson (71)
Goals: Robinson 5/5
Toronto Wolfpack 16 Tries: Brierley (41), Beswick (45), Hall (59)
Goals: Hall 2/3