JAMES FORD insists he is to hang up his boots at the end of this season - and is desperate to go out on a promotion high.
York City Knights' veteran centre, who turns 32 next month, currently doubles up as Gary Thornton's number two at Huntington Stadium but he is ready to put all his rugby league eggs into the coaching basket, with the hope of staying with the Minster city men and "helping to establish the club in the second tier".
The former Sheffield, Castleford and Widnes threequarter joined the Knights in April 2011 after an injury-blighted spell with the Vikings, and, despite various niggling knocks and strains since, he has made 56 appearances for the club, scoring 23 tries - the last of which came in the comeback win at arch-rivals Hunslet last time out that virtually guaranteed top spot in Championship One and an advantage in the promotion play-offs.
Those injuries have helped to make up his mind on his future, but he is determined to complete one last job as a player.
"It's really important (to win promotion)," he said. "We've got a tight-knit squad at York this year and I'm really proud to be part of the group. I've not been one of the key performers on the field but I feel I've contributed off it, and it will be nice for the group to get what they deserve come play-off final time.
"We've got a tough period of training now to ensure we're at our physical peak for the play-offs. It's about who delivers on the day in those games. The league table doesn't lie but we need to keep focussed."
He added: "Rugby league has been a massive part of my life for a long time. I really enjoy the training, playing, the camaraderie, the physical confrontation and obviously the excitement from winning, and I'll miss all that.
"Playing well, seeing young players progress, seeing the team achieve goals and, even though I don't get to do it as often these days, scoring tries - it's a great feeling.
"I won't miss the downsides. Picking up injuries, for example, I find difficult to deal with. It's part of a learning curve, though, and that's helped to make me the person I am mentally.
"The worst period was at Widnes when I couldn't seem to run across the field without breaking a bone or tearing a muscle. It's been mixed at times at York. I've probably changed my style of play a bit to suit the team and I've picked up more impact injuries than before. I obviously want to stay fully fit for these big games to come."
Ford, a prolific try-scorer at Sheffield and Super League player with Cas, has been captain, under-20s coach and first-team assistant in his three years at Huntington Stadium. A notable success came with his young guns finishing high up the U20s table and breaking into the senior ranks, and, while the first team were relegated from the Championship a year ago, he is eager for them to get back where he believes they belong.
As for playing again in that tier himself, he said: "My body might be capable of going round again if required, but I've had a taste of the other side (coaching) and I want to put focus into that.
"I'd like to stay at York, though, and stay for a number of years and hopefully play a part in seeing the club progress on and off the field and establish itself as a second-tier club."