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James Haynes eager to resume Knights life
“I FEEL like I’m eight years old again waiting for my first game.”
Those were the words of York City Knights favourite James Haynes as he prepares to put his 12-month injury nightmare behind him and finally pull the blue jersey back on.
As luck would have it, the 23-year-old full-back might have to wait yet another week for his long-anticipated return as Sunday’s Huntington Stadium friendly against Hunslet is in severe doubt due to the wintry weather – but he remained upbeat, excited and ahead of schedule.
And he now aims to justify the faith shown in him by head coach Gary Thornton, who was keen to keep him at the club despite his year out.
“I’m in line to play this weekend, probably coming off the bench for half an hour or so to ease me in,” said Haynes, who had been in consideration for a cameo role in last Sunday’s friendly against North Wales Crusaders before it was thought best to leave it another seven days.
“It’ll be frustrating if the game is off but I’d set a target of playing in the last friendly against Hull (a week on Sunday) so if I play then I will still be on target.
“I feel like a kid again waiting to play.
“I don’t even know if I can play the game, it’s been that long, but I’m really looking forward to it.”
Asked if he had genuine concerns he may have lost some of the punch, power and panache that made him a crowd favourite at York, Haynes said: “We’ll find out. I will be rusty and I won’t be able to go out there and put in the best performance of my life.
“But I’m in pretty good shape. Hopefully I can get back into it pretty quickly.”
Haynes initially suffered what was thought to be a shin injury when tripped during the pre-season friendly against Castleford last January, forcing him off the field. Then, in ensuing weeks, it was believed he had a minor hamstring tear and a relatively speedy return was expected.
However, as the weeks, and planned return dates, came and went, further examination revealed damage to the sciatic nerve and – at the root of the problem – prolapsed discs in his back.
An operation was needed to fix it. One option was to remove the discs but this would have ended his playing career, so he had keyhole surgery whereby the discs were trimmed. A long and painful road to recovery followed, and the nerve still hurts at times.
But Haynes says at no point did he feel like quitting.
“It’s still causing a bit of pain now and again but that's to be expected,” he said.
“When I first got the injury, we thought it was a hamstring problem as the sciatic nerve runs down the leg. I was gutted when they found out what the real problem was – I knew my season was over – but, at the same time, I knew what was happening and I knew when I would be back. Before then I was in limbo.
“I never thought I wouldn’t play again. I was worried about what level I’d be able to play at and I thought playing pro again would be a big ask. One of the lads at Hull FC, Mike Burnett, had to retire at the end of last season with the same problem. It’s pretty tough. But I never thought about quitting.”
Haynes also says the Knights’ support along the way was important, not least new coach Thornton’s decision to offer him a deal for 2013. He is no longer on contract money but will paid as he plays.
“York have been good,” said the former Hull KR starlet, who first arrived at Huntington Stadium on loan in June 2010 after a long loan at Dewsbury was ended early. He went on to help the Knights to promotion, not least with a try and man-of-the-match performance in the Championship One Grand Final, and was duly signed on permanently.
“The physio last year, Dan (Ramsden), was outstanding and this year Alan (Wood) has been great. I’ve had a lot of support.
“I’m not on guaranteed money now but, because the surgeon said after the op that I might not fully recover, the club would have been silly to offer it.
“As I’d been here a while, I’d hoped they would keep me on and keep a bit of faith in me. But I’d had a full season of not playing so for a new coach to come in and sign me on, I think I owe a lot to Gary Thornton for giving me the opportunity.”
Fight for number one berth
JAMES HAYNES has not given up on winning back his number one berth at York City Knights – but would be happy to play anywhere if it means getting on the pitch.
The 23-year-old ace concedes that new recruit Tom Carr is currently first in line to play at full-back when the Knights kick off the new season in just over two weeks’ time, following the former Featherstone man’s exploits in pre-season.
But he has previously shown an adeptness to fulfil various roles – he can play all across the back line and has also filled in at stand-off – and, while full-back remains his position of choice, he says he will go with whatever boss Gary Thornton decides.
“I’ve been out for so long, I would be just happy to play,” said Haynes, who was sidelined for the entire 2012 campaign.
“I’ve spoken to Gary Thornton about my position and that I’d probably be playing in the outside backs. I just want to play.
“I’ve been impressed by Tom Carr. He’s gone really well at full-back. I would be happy to play wherever – if I’m in the 17 I don’t mind where I play.
“I’d like to think I’ve got a utility value. If it came down to it, I’d say full-back was my best position, but Gary Thornton will make the decision. If he feels it’s best I am on the wing or at centre, I’m happy to go with that and I will do my best to do a good job.”