THE front row will be at the forefront of coach Gary Thornton’s thinking tomorrow when his York City Knights side host North Wales Crusaders in their second pre-season outing (3pm).
With the future of pack leader Paul King still in doubt, with battle-scarred Adam Sullivan still sidelined with a knee problem, and with both player-of-the-year Jack Aldous and Joe Hemmings being rested this week, the spotlight will shine on the new props at Huntington Stadium – including the latest to sign a deal ahead of next month’s Championship kick-off, Russ Dale.
The 23-year-old, described as a direct, no-nonsense front-rower by Thornton, is poised for his first run out off the bench, while fans will also get a first look at Austin Bell who is expected to bring ferocity to the Knights’ pack.
Matty Nicholson was also in Thornton’s thinking, should he have proved his fitness after a shoulder injection, otherwise there will be a first start for another new boy, Luke Stenchion, who had a decent stint as a substitute in last week’s opener against York Select.
Trialist prop Jake Joynt, the former Wakefield U20s prop, will also get another opportunity to win a permanent stay – like Dale, who has signed a one-year pay-as-you-play deal.
Also a Wakefield youth product, being coached for a brief time by Thornton, Dale has seen spells at Hunslet and Featherstone curtailed by injuries over the past two seasons but is looking once again to make a name for himself back in rugby league.
Thornton said: “He’s got some size and is one of those no-nonsense, no-frills props. He’s got the attributes of an old-fashioned front-rower. He will run through a brick wall if you ask him.
“He’s direct and will look to get over people and get a quick play-the-ball. He’s a fit, athletic lad. He can take the ball up all day.
“He’s been out of the game for a couple of years because of injuries, so in that sense it’s a bit of a gamble but I think he’s got his head switched on and he’s come for the right reasons.
“He’s on pay as you play so it’s win-win situation really. He’s got an opportunity which can kickstart his career and we only pay him if he plays. I know there’s potential there, having coached him before. I’ve got to make sure we get it out.”
As for Bell, who signed from Hull in the autumn, Thornton said: “He’s direct as well. He’s physical and looks to put a shot on people. He will mix it up. He’s fearless.
“I’m looking forward to seeing him play. He will run a good line and run hard to get us going forward as quick as we can. He’ll give us some punch up front.”
Aldous (toe) and Hemmings (back) picked up slight knocks in last week’s friendly win, while Sullivan, who has not joined in full contact training, is still awaiting an injection which is hoped will alleviate the tendon trouble in a knee.
King, the veteran former Super League star, has not been in pre-season training at all due to work commitments and old elbow and ankle injuries from last year.
Jack Iley, who like Dale has had a successful trial at York over pre-season, is poised to start in the second row tomorrow alongside Ed Smith, with youngster Tyler Craig getting a chance at loose-forward. Sam Orange is not yet fit to make his bow.
Teenagers Greg Minikin, James Morland and Luke Tomlinson will also get run-outs. Fellow youngster Harry Carter has not been considered, though, after illness.
James Haynes is set for a run-out as a substitute having returned to fitness ahead of schedule.
Stand-off Simon Brown picked up a knock to his back last week and faces a fitness test.
Knights (probable): Carr, Elliott, Lyons, Poutney, Nobbs, Brown, Presley, Stenchion, Brining, Bell, Smith, Iley, Craig. Subs: from Lee, Dale, Scott, Golden, Morland, Minikin, Joynt, Tomlinson, Nicholson, Haynes.