RUGBY league superstar Gareth Ellis has urged his Hull club-mates who turn out for York City Knights this year to relish their time at Huntington Stadium – just like he did.
Great Britain and England back-rower Ellis, who returned to Blighty this off-season after a successful stint in Australia’s NRL in which he proved himself one the world’s best forwards, is the marquee signing – and new captain – for Hull, the Knights’ new “partner” Super League club.
Rugby league fans have mixed views on such partnerships, but Ellis – who began his professional career in the old York Wasps academy in 1998 – is optimistic it will be good for both the Knights and the fringe first-teamers at the KC Stadium who will play for York on dual-registration forms.
“York were my first club when I was 17. I had a year in York’s academy in 1998 and I loved it,” said Ellis, who played as a child for Selby Warriors before going through Castleford Lock Lane ARLC’s juniors.
“It was the next step to more professional surroundings. It was good for me. When I was there it was the old Alliance (reserve grade), it was open age, and you went up against men, so it was a challenge. It was my first year playing in the summer as well. It was good.
“Brian Kellett was the academy coach and there were a few good lads in that team, such as Lee Paterson, who was with Widnes for a time and is now at Whitehaven.”
The Super League reserve grade academy system, much changed since the Alliance days, has changed again this year, to under-19s from U20s and, crucially, with open-age players no longer allowed.
It means Hull players aged 20-plus who are not picked for the Airlie Birds’ first team will not play matches other than for York.
“I think it can be good for the game,” said Ellis.
“It’s good for them to get regular games and experience at Championship level.
“It’s good for York City Knights as well as they get some good players. They’ve also got the responsibility to help nurture these players.
“It’s good for these lads to play at that level and it will be good for Championship players.
“They’ll be thinking, ‘These lads are supposed to be the next superstars,’ so it will be a challenge to put down markers themselves.”
As for the quality in the Hull-York dual-reg ranks, in the likes of props Chris Green and Josh Bowden, and fliers Jamie Shaul, Ben Crooks and Tom Lineham, Ellis – who was at Huntington Stadium for the pre-season friendly between the clubs – said: “When I arrived at Hull I knew a lot of the older players but not much about the younger lads, but they’re good players.
“Josh Bowden, Chris Green and Jamie Shaul played really well at York. It will be exciting for fans of York to watch some aspiring Super League players.”
Asked if the players themselves would want to play for York, he said: “They all probably expected to play for Hull against Leeds (in the Super League opener) given how well they’ve been training.
“But they will get an opportunity through the year, whether it’s sooner or later. Hopefully playing at York will keep them at a level where they can slot in at Super League if and when they’re called upon.
“I would hope they go to York and give their all. They will have to do that to play themselves into the Hull team. It’s an opportunity to put their claim forward for a Super League place. They won’t get picked if they’re not playing well.”