Point to prove as Knights open 2013 season at Whitehaven

York Press: Gary Thornton Gary Thornton

NEW York City Knights boss Gary Thornton reckons ex-Huntington Stadium chief Dave Woods will have a point to prove on a mouthwatering opening day of the 2013 season – just like Thornton himself will at Batley a fortnight later.

The Knights kick off the new-look Championship campaign with the long trek to Whitehaven on Sunday, February 3, to face a team now coached by Woods in his first job at this level since a controversial departure from York a year ago.

The Aussie took the Recreation Ground reins in September, since when he has recruited former Knights Lee Paterson and Rhys Clarke.

Thornton, who likewise faces his former club Batley two weeks later, expects Woods to have his men fired up for their first game back in domestic rugby league’s second tier.

“I get on with Dave really well and I don’t have any issues with him at all,” he said. “I can’t speak for anyone else (at the club), but I think the squad we’ve got is a bit different to when he was here so the players won’t have any issues either. He’s another good coach who I respect.

“He may want to prove a point but I don’t know the ins and outs.

“When a coach leaves a club there’s often some kind of bad feeling. It’s his first job back at this level so it’ll be important to him. It’s also my first job at this level since leaving Batley and I have a point to prove there. I’ve no doubt Dave will do too.”

Thornton, who coached Castleford’s academy for three years in between his five-and-a-half seasons at the Bulldogs’ helm and his arrival at York at the end of last season, admitted the game at promoted Haven would have been tough anyway.

But he is optimistic his side will claim two wins from two before his return to Batley’s Mount Pleasant ground on February 17.

He said: “I’m not sure there’s ever a good time to go to Whitehaven. It’s a tough start. But I’m glad we’ll get the long trip out of the way early and, with them getting promoted, we’ll go there with confidence.

“We’ve then got Swinton at home, who were the one side York beat last year, and we’ll be looking to double up.

“We want to win our home games anyway. That will be a big focus all season no matter who we’re playing. We want to make our home ground a fortress.

“If we win those two games we will go to Batley with confidence. We want to get off to a good start.”

The restructured Championship comprises 14 teams – up from ten last year – with nine now in Championship One, including new pro clubs Gloucestershire All Golds, Hemel Stags and Oxford.

The top eight at the end of the Championship season go into the play-offs – up from six teams in recent years.

The Northern Rail Cup also has a new format, with the group stages, held prior to the league campaign, now featuring only Championship One clubs, minus Oxford.

Those eight clubs have been split into two groups, with the top team in each joining the 14 Championship clubs in straight knockout rounds. Those rounds start in May.

Thornton said: “I’ve got mixed feelings about the new format. Teams used the early stages of the Northern Rail Cup to gear up for the league. We’ll now be straight into pressure football.

“I’m not convinced 14 teams is right for the league – maybe 12 would have been better – but we start when we start and it’s a case of getting it right from day one.”

Other notable fixtures for York include a Good Friday home duel with Featherstone, kicking off at 1pm, followed by an Easter Monday trip to Barrow – the Easter double-headers being reintroduced. York go to champions Sheffield on Friday night, March 1, while games against arch-rivals Hunslet are on April 28, away, and August 18, at home.

The game at Workington has been earmarked for television broadcast on Premier Sports, on Thursday night, August 22, while the regular season ends with the visit of Batley on September 1.

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