Narrow loss for Saints Women at York in league opener

St.Helens Women began their Betfred Women’s Super League 2024 campaign with a tight loss away at York Valkyrie, with a late heartbreaking try snatching the win for the hosts, 20-16.

Matty Smith’s lineup included Faye Gaskin making her 50th appearance for the Club, and Emily Rudge returned to the fold after missing out last week’s huge win over Huddersfield Giants.

Gaskin got the game underway with the kick-off and the Saints strongly started by keeping the hosts by their own 40m line. The opening five minutes were played only 20m on either side of the half with both teams showing some good early ball discipline.

York would challenge the try line first off a penalty for a judged hair pull by the halfway line, Tara Jane Stanley on the left tried her typical step on the left and went off her right, but three Saints were there to hold her just over the line and denied the score.

Ten minutes into the game York continued their early control of the fixture off a Red V error, Burke just mistimed a chase off a high kick and gently nudged her opposite number just before the catch could be made. On the right Valkyrie passed out but a poor attempt came bundling off a shoulder and Rachael Woosey picked up the loose ball.

Paige Travis ran with the ball in hand to the other side of the field, looking for gaps in York’s defence but Saints kept struggling to get out of their own half and Travis’ offload did not land. Jasmine Bell came closest following that, driving close to the posts but kept out well. Once again, another mistake gave the hosts another chance in good ball territory, after defending our line nobly a pass to former Saint Carrie Roberts crashed over. Stanley missed the kick, 4-0, 19 minutes played.

York scored back-to-back tries, a very late six-again call in the ruck called after tackle four allowed Valkyire to keep their wave going forward, again on their right edge but the winger this time for Emma Kershaw to crash in. Stanley missed her second conversion attempt, keeping the score 8-0 with 23 minutes gone.

Naomi Williams and Katie Mottershead then came on for the Red V, looking to make our defence a little more solid and try get that important first attack in the hosts’ half. Liv Wood giving away a penalty for a high shot on Phoebe Hook. St Helens looked a little sharper, Mottershead around the ruck made some great metres. Our first real go in the opposition twenty finished with a high cross-field kick which another former Saint Eboni Partington took and was met immediately by Hook and Erin Stott.

Pressure for York was relieved though, again late in the tackle count, for a high shot from Chantelle Crowl. The mistake was compounded further by another hair pull, an accidental one from Woosey, but Saints met York strongly and forced an error early.

Saints kept being the masters of their own downfall with mistakes, edging into their side of the field Woosey poked her nose through but lost the ball going to ground. Rhiannon Marshall then on the charge was moving forward after a tackle and the Red V set off too early before the play of the ball and got pinged for offside. York then with numbers on their left gave the ball to Tamzin Renouf for their third try. Stanley’s kick went across the face of the posts, 12-0 with three minutes left before the break.

The restart was a good one, York knocked on from it and St Helens had a golden chance to attack. Travis and Emily Rudge on either side came close to powering over, but the hosts who had not done as much tackling in the opening 40 minutes as Saints had kept Matty Smith’s side out and the hooter went.

St Helens began their first attack in the second half quite well, Darcy Stott with two decent carries in the set. ‘Completion’ will have likely been a key message from Smith in the changing rooms. A high shot then gave the Saints more impetus, Williams and Woosey close on the left edge but held up. Mottershead then picked up a York knock-on coming off their line, and York going for a tackle knocked on, before another high shot on Jodie Cunningham – so chances kept coming for the Red V.

A very well-deserved score finally got St Helens on the board, after all the pressure Katie Mottershead close to the line got a quick play of the ball and a sniping drive from dummy half got her over for the try. Amy Taylor added the kick to make it 12-6 with 48 minutes played.

Great set after points from the Saints Women, more good work by Stott, Williams and Mottershead, with the captain then finishing the set with a no nonsense hard carry through the middle. On came Georgia Sutherland with a great first carry from the forward; two York players on her she kept marching and then York were penalised for being held down by Savanah Andrade. Closing that set Faye Gaskin put up a high bomb which Stott and Hook sought to collect but Partington quelled our attack for now.

York with their first major threat of the second half came off a Red V error by our own 40m line, quick plays followed by Bell and Andrade looking to power over, but they were held out again. Yet another high tackle on Cunningham helped ease the pressure.

Following the hosts’ error, Beri Salihi made a brilliant break through the middle before just being stopped by Stanley. After a close call on the right, classy St Helens shape play to the left worked the ball to Leah Burke, the pass was slightly behind her but she took it and grounded it for a sensational score. Taylor’s conversion attempt fell just short in front of the posts, 12-10 just after the hour mark.

Far, far better work from St Helens who grasped control in the game and York kept making errors, an offside on their left edge allowed Smith’s side to challenge by the opposite line once more. A scrum 10m out and on tackle two Taylor went for a short kick, possibly to avoid knocking on, the ball went into the right corner for Burke who dived and got to the ball but it ran out before she could make it a try.

With ten minutes left, the game had gone very cagey and Crowl who had her arms raised, looking to not interfere with the play on York’s side of the ruck was pushed by a Valkyrie player. The Saints’ #10 did not take kindly to that and gave a little shove back and was penalised. York chose to kick the two, and Stanley slotted over her first conversion of the match with just over 8 minutes left, 14-10.

Great defence off the restart and Lacey Owen knocked on in a carry with Gaskin and Travis. Off the scrum Amy Taylor drew in some York players with a deceptive dummy to Rachael Woosey, she raced through a gap 30m and grounded the ball. Unfortunately, she looked to be hurt following it and would need to come off the field. Amy Taylor with a lot of pressure on the conversion slotted it over for a Red V lead, 14-16 with just over four minutes to go.

York would get the final say of the game though, a rare set in our half in the second period of the match and some broken play opened Saints up. On the right, a shooting defender did not land the tackle and York got a pass away for Roberts to score in the corner for her brace. Stanley added the kick to give the reigning Women’s Super League champions the victory just before the final whistle.

A fantastic, spirited fightback from St Helens Women in the second half at the LNER Stadium. The Red V return home for their first home league fixture at the Totally Wicked Stadium next Sunday at the Totally Wicked Stadium.

Match Summary

York Valkyrie: Tara Jane Stanley, Eboni Partington, Tamzin Renouf, Carrie Roberts, Emma Kershaw, Sade Rihari, Liv Gale, Liv Wood, Georgie Hetherington, Alex Stimpson, Lacey Owen, Savannah Andrade, Jas Bell.

Interchanges: Rhiannion Marshall, Kelsey Gentles, Jess Sharp, Lucy Eastwood.

18th player: Daisy Sanderson

Tries: Carrie Roberts (18), Kershaw (22), Renouf (36)

Conversions: Tara Jane Stanley 1/4

Penalties: Tara Jane Stanley 1/1

St.Helens Women: Beri Salihi, Phoebe Hook, Erin Stott, Rachael Woosey, Leah Burke, Amy Taylor, Faye Gaskin, Chantelle Crowl, Tara Jones, Vicky Whitfield, Paige Travis, Emily Rudge, Jodie Cunningham

Interchanges: Naomi Williams, Darcy Stott, Katie Mottershead, Georgia Sutherland.

18th player: Philippa Birchall

Tries: Katie Mottershead (48), Leah Burke (60), Rachael Woosey (74)

Conversions: Amy Taylor 2/3

HT: 12-0

FT: 20-16

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