Premier Sports treated us to another great Championship fixture today, this time with higher stakes as the play-offs kicked into gear with a place in the semi-finals 160 minutes away from Super League up for grabs.
After Batley’s away win at Barrow earlier in the day in a cagey affair in which the Bulldogs for the most part especially in the second half gave themselves a comfortable, advantage, Halifax and York produced a thrilling contest at the Shay.
Halifax would have backed themselves to make it to the Million Pound Game under Championship coach of the year nominee Simon Grix knowing that a win here would set up a semi-final with Featherstone whom they pushed hard in the league last week.
However, it was York who posted the first points through a James Glover penalty. That said a minute later it was the Panthers scoring the first try of the game through Kavanagh hitting a strong line.
The Panthers would soon take firm control of the contest as two of their star players combined. Championship Player of the Year nominee Joe Keyes’ kick setting up flashy winger Lachlan Walmsley to make it 10-2.
York weren’t going to die wondering and crucially kept in touch with the Panthers when Joe Brown finished off some quick hands in the corner to make it 10-6 before the 20 minute mark in a much more lively opening quarter than at Barrow earlier today.
The twists and turns kept coming with the usually reliable Walmsley dropping a high kick with Will Jubb on hand to score. Glover added the extras to once again give the Knights a two-point lead.
It was a game that would come to be defined by spells in which the Knights led by two however they wouldn’t be able to hold onto this advantage until halftime with Walmsley making amends for his earlier error with a try from a kick as the Panthers finished the half strongly with what appeared to be a telling period in the game.
That’s because on the stroke of halftime man of the hour Walmsley completed his hat-trick thanks to a looping pass to make it 20-12 at the break thanks to Keyes’ third goal.
York needed a response at the start of the second half and it came via one of their most experienced players in former Super League Champion and ex-Leeds Rhinos forward Chris Clarkson who moved across field before putting Liam Harris through to score making it 22-18.
From a former Leeds man to a current Rhinos starlet, on loan centre Levi Edwards was on hand to level the scores with Clarkson again providing the killer pass. Glover couldn’t convert and the game was left level with little under half an hour to play.
There was then a no try from Adam Tangata but eventually the Panthers would take the lead again after Edwards was guilty of a high tackle and Keyes converted the chance into a two-point lead.
However two can play at this game and Glover levelled things again with a penalty after the knights had gone close to scoring a try.
All square and inside the last quarter with Super League dreams and the season on the line, the drop goal attempts began.
Then the crucial moment, with 10 to go York charged up field winning a penalty for a strip which Glover turned into a further two points as the Knights took another two-point lead.
The back and forth of goal kicks continued when Keyes was given a shot to level matters again from 40 out and he heartbreakingly hit the sticks with three minutes to go. From their the Knights saw the game out to shock the third place Panthers and book a place in the semi-finals.
It was an impressive comeback from 10 points down at the break but all the more impressive has been their comeback from their record breaking 100-4 loss to Leigh. And their reward for this is a trip to Leigh in the semi-finals sending Batley to Featherstone in the other semi.