Yorkshire Carnegie 17 Doncaster Knights 30: Magnificent Knights charge to play-off semi-final first leg victory
Doncaster Knights produced a magnificent display to beat Yorkshire Carnegie 30-17 in their Championship promotion play-off semi-final first leg at Headingley.
What had been predicted to be a closely-contested encounter between two sides who finished just a point apart was anything but with Knights dominating a below-par Carnegie side - who only came to life late on - for long periods.
Although Knights would have been happy with any margin of victory at the start, in the final analysis they were probably disappointed to take a lead of just 13 points back to Castle Park on Sunday.
Knights, who included all four players named in the Championship’s team of the season in midweek, made a bright start and would have taken a fourth-minute lead had fly-half Declan Cusack hit the target with a penalty.
The visitors continued to play an expansive game and deservedly took the lead on eight minutes – almost all of it played in the Carnegie half - when strong-running centre Will Hurrell fended off two would-be tacklers and held off the cover to force his way over for a try converted by Cusack.
Knights weathered Carnegie’s first real pressure before Cusack extended their lead to 10-0 with a 25th minute penalty.
Prop Charlie Beech was sin-binned after Carnegie collapsed the scrum as Knights drove to the line.
Knights wasted no time in cashing in on their extra man and Andy Bulumakau came off his wing to touch down from close range from scrum-half Michael Heaney’s pass after Latu Makaafi had been held just short following a strong run.
Cusack again added the extras to make it 17-0.
Former Leeds Rhinos star Kevin Sinfield, who had not been able to stamp his authority on the game in what could be his last appearance at Headingley, pulled three points back for his side with a penalty with the last action of the half.
Knights threatened to increase their lead in the opening stages of the second half with Makaafi and hooker Ben Hunter both going close.
Knights were awarded a penalty try, converted by Cusack, after the referee lost patience with the Carnegie pack at a scrum close to their line.
Cusack was wide with a long-range penalty on 54 minutes but made no mistake from the other side of the pitch minutes later to extend Knights lead to 27-3.
It took Carnegie, who had rung the changes since the break, until the last 15 minutes to breach the Doncaster 22.
Carnegie finally breached the Doncaster line with ten minutes to go, despite a try-saving tackle by wing Tyson Lewis, who had earlier caught the eye in his pace in attack, to halt Burrows just short of the line following a powerful midfield burst.
But there was no stopping former Castle Park favourite Oli Goss from the resulting play. Joel Hodson’s conversion made it 27-10.
Cusack gave Knights a bit more breathing space with another penalty but it was Carnegie who had the final word with a converted try by Chris Walker from a driving maul.
Yorkshire Carnegie: Holmes, Goss, Forsyth, Lucock, Prell; Sinfield, Pilgrim; Beech, Jack Walker, O’Donnell, Myerscough. Smith, Beck, Saul, Burrows. Rep: Nilsen, Imiolek, Tireswell. Schofield, Chris Walker, Green, Hodgson.
Doncaster Knights: Jarvis. Bulumakau, Clark, Hurrell, Lewis; Cusack, Heaney; List, Hunter, Quigley, Challinor, Phelan, Makaafi, Hills, Shaw. Rep: Veikoso, Brugnara, John, Stedman, Young, Bryant, Field.
Referee: Craig Maxwell.