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Mystery over Ryan MacDonald's York City Knights comeback
YORK City Knights boss Gary Thornton is eager to add more experience to his pack – but whether former cult hero Ryan MacDonald makes a much-rumoured return remains to be seen.
Former Hull and Hull KR youngster Ben Crane and ex-Leeds, Wakefield and Castleford youth player Nathan Harper are the latest duo to be recruited by the Knights, taking the official number in the 2014 squad to 27.
There will not be many more to come before pre-season begins with testing early next month, with Thornton saying he is “pretty happy” with the competition for places already on board.
However, while he remained tight-lipped on speculation linking the club with much-travelled prop MacDonald, the head coach did admit he was keen to add another old head to complement to the youth and enthusiasm now in the ranks.
“There are maybe a couple more we’re looking to bring in,” he said. “I’m happy we’re creating competition for places across the board and there’s not many more we want to bring in, but maybe we could add another experienced front-rower if possible to take some pressure off Iain Morrison, and possibly another back-rower/loose-forward with experience.”
It is thought MacDonald, now living in Leeds, contacted the Knights about returning to the club, for whom he played in 2007 – becoming a hero to some fans, earning the chant “Ryan’s gonna get you”, and a villain to others.
However, other clubs are also believed to be interested, including North Wales Crusaders, whom he helped to the Championship One title this year and who, it is thought, have now offered improved terms.
The “experienced back-rower” Thornton was referring to is almost certainly Jason Golden, as previously reported, but there is still no confirmation that he has put pen to paper on a new deal, despite tweeting last week that he had agreed terms.
Thornton was optimistic that Crane and Harper, both recruited on match terms, could prove excellent acquisitions as the Knights look for an immediate return to the Championship next season following relegation this year.
Second-row-cum prop Crane, previously highly-rated on Humberside, had a short spell with York’s under-20s this year as he returned from knee reconstruction surgery which effectively curtailed Hull’s plans to add him to their full-time ranks, and he has now been given the chance to kickstart his career at Huntington Stadium.
Front-rower Harper was with Castleford U18s when Thornton was in charge of the Tigers’ U20s, and arrives at York having been released by Featherstone after getting too old for their U20s.
“Ben was one of the players Lee Radford (Hull academy boss) was recommending to us (for dual-registration last season) but got a really bad injury which kept him out for quite a while,” said Thornton. “Hull were seriously considering taking him on full-time before his injury. He did his rehab with them, though, as he was so well thought of there.
“When he came here last season it was to see if he could play and get back to some kind of fitness, not to bring him in for first-team contention. We’re giving him an opportunity now to get into the first team. He’s got a decent pedigree and if he earns a start then fantastic.
“We need to strip him down a bit in pre-season as he put on a bit of weight after the injury, but he’s got an opportunity. He’s a smashing lad with a tremendous attitude, as he showed this year when he came here mostly off his own back.
“Nathan is another one coming in to take an opportunity with us. He’s the same as Jake Joynt – he’s found himself too old for the U20s and Featherstone weren’t going to keep him as an over-age player. But he’s a big, aggressive kid with a good offload game and he goes all right.
“Whether he plays 20 games for us next term remains to be seen but he will certainly push the other front-rowers pretty strongly.”
Knights 2014 squad: backs – James Haynes, Luke Hardcastle, James Ford, George Elliott, Ben Dent, Greg Minikin, Adam Dent, Luke Tomlinson; pivots – Jack Lee, Kriss Brining, Jonny Presley, Pat Smith, Benn Hardcastle, Harry Carter; forwards – Jack Aldous, Sam Orange, Ryan Mallinder, Tyler Craig, Tim Stubbs, Ed Smith, Jake Joynt, Nathan Freer, Iain Morrison, Jack Iley, Austin Bell, Nathan Harper, Ben Crane.
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