GARY THORNTON has extolled the virtues of squad rotation after chopping and changing his winning team for the visit of South Wales Scorpions.

York City Knights go into the game (3pm) as early leaders of Championship One and on the back of a shock Challenge Cup victory over Championship side Whitehaven.

However, head coach Thornton is set to shuffle his side, with in-form half-back Pat Smith, teenage prodigy Greg Minikin and eye-catching prop Jake Joynt all surprise omissions among five changes.

Former boss Mick Cook was memorably labelled ‘the Tinkerman’ amid criticism for altering his line-ups, but his policy ultimately paid off as his class of 2005 won the National League Two title - and Thornton is hoping to follow suit as he reiterates the need to keep everyone fresh for the promotion play-offs.

“It’s about squad rotation at this time of year,” said Thornton, insisting nobody had been “dropped”.

“I’ve said before we need to make sure people are fresh and playing at their highest level come August and September.

“Let them freshen up and have a rest.

“I’ve not left anyone because of form - not by any means. It’s a case of keeping people fresh.

“It’s tough at the moment to justify leaving anyone out given the way they’ve played. But it’s not teams that wins championships and trophies - it’s squads.”

A “very disappointed” Smith makes way for Benn Hardcastle and Joynt for crowd favourite Iain Morrison, who has got over his chest infection.

Thornton said: “It’s good they’re disappointed not to be playing because it shows they care and want to play every week.

“Pat has played every game so far - every game of pre-season and every competitive game. We’ve got strength and conditioning coaches doing good work in things like measuring fatigue and Pat could probably benefit from a week off.

“He has been fantastic since he came to the club and he and Jonny Presley have built a good relationship at half-back. He’ll be a massive part of what we do, but we’ve got another good half-back in Benn Hardcastle.

“Another factor is how well Harry Carter played last week. I could’ve played Pat for a bit as replacement hooker but that would’ve been unfair on young Harry.

“It all shows our strength in depth and I’d like to think it shows I have faith in the kids like Harry who come in and do well enough to justify keeping their shirt.”

Minikin has a slight hamstring injury, with fit-again James Ford a natural replacement at centre, the player/assistant-coach coming in for his 2014 bow after injury.

Thornton joked that 31-year-old Ford had a lot to live up to - his young protegé Minikin having scored vital tries in the last two games.

He added: “James has still got lots to offer. He’s been there and done it and has nothing to prove to anyone.

That said, he’ll still have to play well to keep his shirt. We’re being successful because of competition for places.”

Kriss Brining is ruled out for six to eight weeks after breaking an ankle last week, while Ben Crane suffered ankle ligament damage in the same game.

Experienced pair Jason Golden and Lee Paterson are obvious replacements after injury ruled them out last week.

Ben Dent also picked up an ankle knock last week but is okay to keep his wing berth.

In stark contrast to York, South Wales, coached by one-time York Wasps player Mike Grady, come to Huntington Stadium yet to win this term.

Shaun Owens faces six weeks on the sidelines with a fractured hand, but Osian Phillips could make his first appearance of the year.

Grady said: “This is a big test, especially after York’s win against Whitehaven.

“I was disappointed with the way we collapsed towards the end against Hemel Stags. We hadn’t done that this season. If the lads can keep their effort and enthusiasm then the results will come.”

Thornton added: “I think they will pose us problems. We’ve banged on all week about not getting complacent and not taking our foot off the pedal. We don’t know too much about them but we have to respect them.”

Knights (probable): Haynes, Elliott, Ford, Morland, B Dent, Presley, B Hardcastle, Bell, Lee, Aldous, Mallinder, E Smith, Paterson. Subs: Carter, Morrison, Freer, Golden.

Stand-by: Joynt, P Smith.