Two hopefuls for play off places, and Betfred Championship rivals, got their 2023 competitive seasons underway with an encounter at the LNER Stadium in York as York RLFC Knights took on the Widnes Vikings for the first points of the season.
York acknowledged that they were a bit ‘underdone’ in pre-season and were selecting from a small squad as a recruitment drive continues but it was a Widnes outfit packed full of household names with experienced players and a sprinkling of new signings.
Kieran Dixon was presented with the opening opportunity of the afternoon for Widnes, but he was tackled into touch with the try line beckoning on six minutes. York surviving the early onslaught.
Ryan Millar opened Widnes scoring for the season when he took a tap back from a Tom Gilmore chip to the right hand corner to ground with the York defence in some disarray. The conversion went wide of the uprights but after ten minutes the Vikings were 4-0 ahead.
A first error of the game from Widnes on twenty minutes gave York their first real opportunity of the game but the Widnes defence held firm with Tom Gilmore intercepting a wayward pass on the last tackle.
After being a clear second best in the opening twenty, York found their feet and Danny Kirmond scored the equalising try when he picked up a delightful Liam Harris grubber kick to drop over the line. James Glover added the conversion to put his side into the lead with half an hour on the clock.
Kirmond was close to getting a second try on thirty-five but was held up just short of the line. Three minutes later, Ryan Miller went through a gaping hole in the York defence with a couple of minutes of the half remaining but the ranks closed and York took a two point lead into the half time sheds.
York conceded an early second half penalty which Tom Gilmore kicked to level the scores.
A great drive from Shane Grady, off a short pass, saw the second rower burrow over for the second Widnes try to retake the lead, but Gilmore’s attempted conversion kick drifted across the front of the sticks.
On fifty-six York were back on level terms when a Harris grubber to the wing was collected by Joe Brown who carried it over the line to score. James Glover added the conversion, his kick just making it to the target, and the Knights were again on top.
Widnes were once again in front on 68 minutes when Walker took a Fozard pass to dive in under the sticks, Jack Owens added the conversion for 16-12 with ten minutes remaining and an Owens penalty on seventy-two took the lead out to six points.
Tom Gilmore dropped a goal with just two minutes remaining to seal the Vikings win by a 19-12 margin with no way back for the Knights.
If today’s game was an indication of the level of competition in the 2023 Championship then we are in for a real treat. Both side had their chances to take the points and it was a little rustiness in defence which eventually cost the Knights as Widnes opened their season with a victory and the two points.
York RLFC Knights: Marsh, Brown (T), Glover (2G), Harrison, Towse, Cunningham, Harris, Kirby, Jubb, Fitzsimmons, Kirmond (T), Antrobus, Thompson. Subs: Michael, Daley, Teanby, Barnard.
Widnes Vikings: Owens (2G), Millar (T), Fleming, Edge, Dixon, Lyons, Gilmore (G, DG), Lawton, Johnstone, Amor, Davies, Grady (T), Bent. Subs: Fozard, Field, Hatton, Walker (T).
Half Time: 6-4.
Full Time: 12-19.
Score Progression: 0-4, 4-4, 6-4 : HT : 6-6, 6-10, 10-10, 12-10, 12-14, 12-16, 12-18, 12-19 : FT.
Lead Exchange: Widnes – Square – York – Square – Widnes – Square - York – Widnes.
Referee: Michael Smaill.