York Raiders captain Phil Johnson spoke of his pride in his team’s performance on Saturday, as they were edged out by Lancaster Lynx in their inaugural Roses fixture. Although the Raiders were on the losing side, it was a game of fine margins, and the White Rose demonstrated enough to suggest that success will come in the near future.
Donning the strip of local Championship One outfit York City Knights, the Raiders aimed to start the match with intent and set the tone for the coming contest. However, it was the men from the West coast that started most brightly, imposing themselves well upon the home side and making good ground early on. A good tackle from vice-captain, Matt Dickinson stemmed the Lancaster tide, but it wasn’t long before the Lynx went over for their first try. York hadn’t yet adjusted to the full length of the pitch, and were exploited down the left with effect. In the opening stages, communication was slightly muted, but the side was spurred on by Johnson from the touchline, who sat out the game through injury; Chris Corr captained the side in his absence.
Following a scrappy period close to the York try-line, Lancaster seemed to be in the ascendancy, and it appeared to be a matter of time before they increased their lead further. At one stage, Jordan Williams caught the ball brilliantly and did well to find Hugo Reid, who broke forward with aplomb; it was the latter who seemed liveliest amongst the Raiders’ ranks, and he was spurred on by a large gathering on the touchline for the Black & Gold. Williams was soon on hand again to relieve the pressure upon his side, this time providing respite through his kicking. York also utilised their full squad, using their rolling subs to maintain the required intensity; width continued to be an issue for the Raiders though, and they were once again caught out down the left.
Lancaster continued to press with intent throughout the first period of play, whilst also shutting out York effectively; Baines and Peterson both went over and successfully converted tries before the break, meaning that the score stood at 18-0 in the Lancastrians’ favour at half time.
Whatever was said amongst the Raiders during the break worked a treat, as they came out a different side in the second half, and put in a performance that was deserving of at least a share of the spoils. Lancaster, having been the better side in the first half, seemed to fade and lacked the fitness to see out the game properly; as their intensity faded, so, at times, did their discipline, as Ollie MacDonald was to discover at one stage, whilst Mike Gaskell got an ankle injury before being carried off by Rob Culshaw, much to the amusement of the gathered crowd.
York set out to attack their opponents from the off, and immediately looked much more positive in their play. Reid, who was enjoying a great game for the Raiders, stole possession and after going on an impressive run, but it was ultimately to no avail. Lancaster then increased their lead further with another converted try, and there was a sense that it just wasn’t going to be York’s day.
However, with a 24-point deficit to overcome, the White Rose suddenly switched on and played with greater fluidity and freedom, scoring a flurry of points towards the end of the game. After a period of sustained pressure, James Plant broke through brilliantly and went over underneath the posts to give himself an easy conversion. With their firsts points finally on the board, York played with increased confidence, and it wasn’t long before they went over again in the left corner, although the angle meant that the conversion was always going to be difficult and it was missed; Matt Dickinson also got himself on the scoresheet with a well-worked try.
As the match wore on towards its conclusion, York looked more and more like the well-oiled machine that they can be, and by the final whistle, there was only one side in the ascendancy; if the match had longer to run, it may well have been the case that the Raiders could have claimed something from the game. Their character to come back from 24-0 down to score 14 points, and to do so whilst maintaining high fitness levels was impressive. However, it wasn’t to be, and the inaugural Roses rugby league football fixture ultimately ended in glorious failure for the White Rose – but there is plenty to suggest that this fixture will be a valuable source of points for York in the future.
Speaking after the match, Johnson was nonetheless proud of his side, telling Nouse, “Leading on from last week [when the Raiders lost against a combined Hull/St John side], I think the defence is a constant thing with us, with the completion of sets and ball in hand, communication and that sort of thing.
“The lads have been brilliant. There’s a lot of rugby union lads in there and lads who haven’t played before, and obviously I’m there on the sideline shouting at them. It doesn’t help with my injury, but I’m so proud of them.
“Win or lose, it doesn’t matter to me; for the second game in, I think they did brilliantly and in the last 20 minutes showed it with the scoreline ending as 24-14. The points were scored in the last 10 minutes or so were brilliant. We had to dig deep and did.
“I don’t think Lancaster were anything particularly special. Next year, when we’ve got some experience under our belts, we’ll be all over it at their place. I think I’d put the slow start down to experience. Not a lot of the lads have played together and they’ve learned from the first half, taking some things in. They played brilliantly in the second half, and it’s just about the defence. It’s hard work in league and a different game to union.”
Johnson was also positive about the Raiders’ short-term future, as they prepare to enter the BUCS leagues for 2015/16. “The ratification should be up and running soon, I’ve put all the paperwork in so we’ll find out soon. I’m not sure what league we’ll be going into, but we’ll be playing the likes of Hull and Teesside. I’m excited for it.
“Next year we will go to Lancaster and get something. A couple more games’ worth of experience and we’d have beaten them. Lancaster had a couple of decent players, and I respect and thank them for coming across, but we’ll beat them next year.”
York squad: Jordan Williams, Dave Harr-Alexander, Ollie MacDonald, Matt Dickinson (VC), Cav Trenery, James Plant, Mike Gaskell, Joss Canevet, Ben Bishop, Hugo Reid, Oli Turner, Alan Willits, Chris Corr (C), Rob Culshaw, Joe Blayney, Zac Gorley, Simon Irwin, Rob McConkey.
Player of the Match: Hugo Reid