Perry Whiteley scored twice as York City Knights earned a place in the second round of the Betfred Challenge Cup after overcoming a stern test from Sheffield Eagles in a wonderful opening contest of 2021 at the Keepmoat Stadium on Friday night.
The Eagles gave their more experienced visitors a real run for their money in the first-round contest screened live on The Sportsman, but the Knights’ Super League quality eventually told as they ran out 30-6 winners.
York grabbed an early lead when Josh Guzdek failed to deal with Brendan O’Hagan’s grubber on the short side and Whiteley dropped on the ball. But while Kieran Dixon converted, Sheffield were soon level as they made the most of being handed a repeat set, Greg Burns spotting a gap and charging over from acting half for Izaac Farrell to convert.
Sheffield then had long periods in the ascendancy as they asked serious questions of the experienced York defence, but the Knights stood tall to keep the Eagles out. And the visitors landed a couple of sucker punches to head into the break with a significant advantage.
First, Kriss Brining snuck over from close range, then Marcus Stock’s excellent weaving charge through the middle fed Ben Jones-Bishop, who charged through the broken Sheffield defence from 50 yards. Dixon added both two-pointers and landed a penalty on the stroke of half-time to give the Knights a 20-6 lead.
The game ought to have been over as a contest soon after the restart as Ben Jones-Bishop picked up a loose ball on his own line and made a speedy dash through. But, with the rest of the Sheffield defence trailing in the full-back’s wake, back-rower Olly Davies somehow steamed across from the opposite side of the pitch to spectacularly bring down the former Leeds and Salford star.
The Eagles continued to work hard in defence, and the came close more than once when giving the ball air on the left, with Ryan Miller and James Glover looking dangerous in the three-quarters.
But it was on the hour mark that the Knights finally got some breathing space, O’Hagan’s sharp cut-out pass finding Whiteley in space on the right touchline to dive over in the corner. And former Wakefield and Warrington star Ryan Atkins added the gloss in the final minute, taking a dangerous kick through to cross by the posts.
Mark Aston will take a huge amount of satisfaction from his Sheffield side’s performance in defeat, while for James Ford and York this was a great first workout after a year on the sidelines during the Covid-19 pandemic.
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