YORK CITY KNIGHTS 4 LEEDS RHINOS 12
By DAVE PARKINSON
What a contest!
This biggest of matches proved to be a magnificent advert for the women’s game, with some great attack and particularly committed defence from both sides which produced plenty of errors yet provided a compelling and entertaining watch as Leeds took the honours with the help of Caitlin Beevers’ two tries.
Both sides felt their way into the contest and there was an early opportunity on the left for York with Katie Langan just stopped in time by the Leeds cover defence after some tough carries from France international Elisa Akpa.
And some Tara-Jane Stanley trickery in the first few minutes saw her round Sophie Robinson before the defence caught up.
Olivia Wood set a good lead but the City Knights frittered away a further chance in the fifth minute when Tamzin Renouf couldn’t take a pass.
Clinically, the Rhinos moved down the other end of the field and Courtney Winfield-Hill fed the pass to Beevers, who swerved past her marker to score the opener after seven minutes. Winfield-Hill converted.
In completing their next set, Leeds forced an error on the back of Hanna Butcher’s kick but, after attacking down the right, lost the ball under pressure and York were allowed to clear their lines well and gained confidence as the set went on.
Leeds conceded a penalty ten metres out and Wood flew at the line, just being stopped before the defence rushed Olivia Gale.
Good pressure on a low kick forced a Leeds error and York renewed their attack.
Beevers crunched Georgie Hetherington, then Savannah Andrade threw a forward pass.
A Stanley kick after 18 minutes had Tara Moxon under all kinds of pressure but with Butcher moving up to tackle Gale, Leeds won the ball back.
Leeds looked set for more points in the 20th minute when Lucy Murray raced through an opening from Winfield-Hill’s distribution, but Stanley did well to prevent Beevers from adding her second try and the ball harmlessly went dead from an infield kick.
York again advanced with menace before Beevers caught a difficult kick.
With 24 minutes gone, York thought they had their equalising score, but Stanley was hauled back after an obstruction and Leeds powered clear of their line again.
There was some magnificent interplay on both sides with Sinead Peach and Wood showing their old Bradford Bulls nous while Keara Bennett, Dannielle Anderson and Zoe Hornby were smart in midfield for Leeds.
York saw a further opportunity lost just before the half-hour mark when Leeds rushed in to pressure Tilly Butler. They didn’t lose heart and hunted an error which meant they claimed possession on the Leeds 40-metrre line.
Into the final few minutes of the half, Peach forced a drop-out with an intelligent kick to the in-goal and although the Leeds defence shuddered, it didn’t give way.
It was then the turn of Leeds to go close. Winfield-Hill cut her way to the 30 and then a couple of minutes later, Jasmine Cudjoe set off from dummy-half only to be stopped on the line following another thunderous carry from the outstanding Anderson.
Despite having the better opportunities, York were the more relieved to hear the half-time hooter when they found themselves pushed back to their own line thanks to Leeds’ speed and headed to the dressing rooms facing that 6-0 deficit.
Early in the second half the game had a lengthy stoppage when Leeds’ Shannon Lacey was left in agony and assisted from the field with a leg injury. If anything, this brought her side even closer together.
Andrade was stopped close to the line as York built pressure, but again Leeds responded superbly with their middle unit winning the ball back. Moxon then chased a wide kick from Sam Hulme to force a drop out.
Leeds finally made another breakthrough. Winfield-Hill’s kick was spilled by the York defence and two tackles later, Beevers found her way to the line for her second try. Winfield-Hill’s conversion opened a twelve-point lead.
York burst back into the contest in the 57th minute when Peach picked her way through the defence for a brilliant solo score from 30 metres, but Stanley couldn’t convert.
That score lifted the noise levels. York went on the hunt for a second try with Stanley again posing problems, but Leeds responded with some excellent cover defence, no tackle more important than a combined effort between Robinson and Beevers which ended with Renouf in touch.
York continued to probe but Leeds’ willingness to work and communicate saw them repel attack after attack inside the final quarter.
At the other end, Bennett forced a drop-out. Nothing came of that but some immense pressure in the 69th minute meant Leeds trapped Stanley inside her own in-goal area. Fran Goldthorp thought she had a score but the decision went against her, while at the other end, Hollie Dodd was penalised for a ball steal when she thought that she had a try.
The final minutes brought further drama. Langan and Andrade forged a half-break before Kelsey Gentles skipped on the outside for York, only for a magnificent effort by Beevers to get her over the touchline.
Jasmine Bell forced an error from Hornby, but more superb commitment by Leeds kept York at bay.
They managed to catch Leeds on the last tackle to ensure another promising position, but no matter what they tried, York couldn’t get through again.
After the game, Leeds coach Lois Forsell said: “I think that togetherness, that grit and determination and playing as a team, playing as a collective, is what we’ve been working on for the majority of the season.
“I think we were good despite making it hard for ourselves at times. Grand Finals are won by teams and they showed they have a great spirit.”
For York boss Lindsay Anfield, it was defeat at the final stage, yet she praised her team.
“We’ve had a fantastic season, and if you said to me at the beginning of the year we were going to win the nines, win the league leaders, only lose one game in the league all year and get to a Grand Final, I’d have absolutely snapped your hand off.
“These girls have put so much into the season, but credit to Leeds. They were outstanding – they didn’t really falter at any point and didn’t give us much room to play.”