KNOTTINGLEY RU maintained their recent winning run with a memorable 23-21 victory in a classic derby game at Moor Lane on Saturday.
Pontefract had beaten them convincingly in the sides’ first meeting this season, but the upturn in form of the Knottingley team since the turn of the year made the return a keenly anticipated contest and it did not disappoint.
In beating their local rivals for the first time in a competitive match and the first time in any first team game since 1976 Knottingley were proving a point and proving that their win over Yorkshire One leaders Bridlington in their previous game was no fluke.
A hectic opening set the pattern for a closely fought game as the visitors turned over possession from the kick-off and were quickly rewarded with a penalty booted by fly-half Steven Rockett.
Pontefract, who had stalwart Richard Fletcher back at scrum-half and Matt Williams and Andy Fenton at locks, looked to move the ball wide and thought they had their first try when full-back Steve Johnson went over only to have his effort ruled out for putting a foot in touch.
Knottingley held on and when it was their turn to force some pressure following good work by forwards Craig Field, Perry Morrison and Johnny Clark they doubled their lead as Steven Rockett landed a drop goal.
Ponte were having joy in the scrums, however, and their dominance in this department led to the sin-binning of Barry Leadbitter as he was deemed offside kicking the ball out of a scrum as the hosts went for a pushover.
Dave Laverick called for a further scrum and Derek Eves finally drove over for the try that had been coming. The conversion was missed, leaving the visitors a point in front.
But Knottingley upped their game and almost posted their second try as centre Michael Ash tore through the home defence only to be brought back by a referee’s decision that there had been crossing in the build-up.
Rockett tried for another goal only for the ball to fall short, but it ricocheted off home lock Williams, resulting in a scrum feed to Knottingley. Surprisingly the visitors’ forwards then held the scrum and the half-backs spread the ball to full-back Brad Rowlandson, who met the pass at pace to burst over for a fine try, which was converted by Rockett.
Pontefract had a chance to hit back when awarded a penalty in front of goal, but they chose to play it and missed out on points when Matthew Bacon could not hold onto the ball with the line in sight, leaving the half-time score at 13-5.
The second half was to be a tit for tat affair with more twists and turns than an Agatha Christie novel. Initially it was Ponte who held the upper hand as Andy Dean kicked a penalty then full-back Steve Johnson went in for a try converted by Dean to put the hosts 15-13 up.
Back came Knottingley. Rallying to the words of coach Jason Fieldhouse and skipper Carl Clayton, their pack responded, but several chances went begging and Rockett was unable to kick a tricky penalty against the wind from 45 metres out.
Dean was on target to make it 18-13 after a penalty was awarded to the hosts for hands in the ruck. They again got into the 22 and at the scrum drove the opposition forwards back, the scrum wheeled and as the ball was picked up the opportunity was disappointingly refused.
The next big turning point came with the try of the game for Knottingley after winger Paul Rockett collected a deep clearance kick from Johnson and linked with Steven Seed to send Field over in the corner. Steven Rockett’s fine conversion made it 20-18 to the visitors.
Pontefract regrouped, however, and forced a penalty for holding on. Dean kicked the goal and now it was the hosts back in front at 21-20 with little time left.
But a quick restart retained the ball for Knottingley and in the resulting scrabble lock Andy Fenton was penalised for going off his feet at the ruck. Steven Rocket held his nerve to kick the goal and it was now 23-21 to the visitors.
Still there was time for one last piece of drama as Ponte took play into the 22 and won one last-gasp penalty. But with the last kick of the game Dean’s effort went wide and Knottingley had their memorable victory.