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Championship countdown: Skipper Ford hopes for positive start to 2013 season
Almost there to the start of York City Knights’ new campaign and captain James Ford reveals his hope of a good start to PETER MARTINI, Knights reporter for The Press.
CAPTAIN James Ford admits Whitehaven away is not the easiest of starts as York City Knights bid to begin their 2013 Championship with a bang – but he does not think the Dave Woods factor will unduly affect the side.
Ford is confident the Knights are looking stronger now than at this time last year, so much so he has already banished talk of a relegation battle or a second successive wooden spoon campaign, instead looking up towards the top-eight play-offs.
They face a telling test of their credentials in their season opener in Cumbria on Sunday, though, made all the more intriguing by the fact they go up against Aussie coach Woods, who returned to a hot-seat this winter after being controversially ousted from York 17 months ago.
He is sure Woods will have his Haven charges fired up but is optimistic his own side will be ready for the test, despite an iffy pre-season comprising one win and two defeats.
“We’ve got a difficult start but I don’t think there are any easy games. It will be good to go there and win,” he said.
“We will win games this year and in the games we don’t win we’re looking to be much more competitive than we were last year.”
Asked about Woods, Ford said: “From our perspective, the blokes speak highly of Dave. We enjoyed our time under him. He’s a good bloke. But we’re going to go there and try to win, like we would in any game.
“I can’t speak for Dave. I’m not sure what went on (regarding his York exit). If he does feel things were unjust I’m sure he will want to get a good performance from his blokes.”
As for the new-look York roster, Ford said: “I think the squad is looking good. We’ve brought in good quality experienced players like Jason Golden and some really good young players like Austin Bell from Hull, who looks a really direct forward, and Tom Carr, who looks like he oozes class at the back. I’m surprised Featherstone let him go.
“It’s good to have a mix of young players who want to make a name for themselves and the likes of Jay Golden setting the standards for everyone else to get to.”
Ford has pinpointed players across the park as potentially key men – and possible match-winners – over the course of the season.
“Jack Lee is a big player for us at hooker,” he said. “He’s very crafty and can be very subtle around dummy-half. He would probably admit he wasn’t at his best last year but he’s an outstanding player.
“Sam Scott and Jay Golden are two winners so that’s a strong back row. They’re the kind of honest, hard-working blokes you’d want to go to war with.
“Chris Thorman is obviously a big loss at half-back but we’ve got Jonny Presley, (dual-registered) Danny Nicklas and Simon Brown to fill that void.
“Jonny has been a friend for a long time. He can score tries from nothing he’s so explosive.
“Danny reminds me of (Halifax’s former Knights half-back) Anthony Thackeray with his running play.
“The three of them ask different questions so it’s a really good mix.
“Browny’s kicking game has already shown up well in pre-season. It’s remarkable really, his long kicking game especially. On our small pitch (at Huntington Stadium), it’s really important to kick the ball well and into the right areas. He’s also a good organiser.”
Ford added with a smirk: “One of the best things is he’s a really good bloke as well.
“He’s at the hub of every little prank – often at (conditioning coach) Jay Salter’s expense.
“You want a professional environment but you also want that bit of fun, of bonding.
“People like Browny and James Haynes, and their japes, knit the squad together.”
Ford, like boss Gary Thornton, cannot see beyond the Championship’s ‘big five’ as regards the likely destination of the this year’s title – but he is optimistic the Knights will join them in this year’s play-offs.
“I think there are a top five in Featherstone, Leigh, Sheffield, Batley and Halifax. Fev, Leigh and Fax are probably the front-runners but Sheffield and Batley are very good teams like they showed last year.
“Daryl Powell has created a fantastic culture at Featherstone, the kind of environment you want to create.
“But Sheffield won it so no one will write them off and (their head coach) Mark Aston is a very astute coach who gets the best out of his players.”
Ranks of tyros offer great hope
JAMES FORD reckons the Minster city’s rugby league fans should be excited about the quality kids that are coming through the system at York City Knights.
The 30-year-old, who doubles up captaining the first team with coaching the under-20s, even says the teenagers under his tutelage are far better players than he was at their age, before he broke into Super League and enjoyed a decade in the professional game.
Ford’s young guns won five of their six matches at under-18s level last year.
A change in the youth system means games this year will be at U20s level, with two over-age players allowed. The Knights are largely sticking, however, with last year’s squad, who are now U19s. Several are still 17.
“I don’t want to put any undue pressure on these young lads but we’ve got some really good players coming through,” said Ford.
“Gary Thornton (head coach) is really impressed with them. There are five or six (U19s) in the first-team squad but in truth there could be another five or six there.
“There are some really good young players around the club. Fans want to get a bit excited about these boys.
“People like Ed Smith, Tyler Craig, Kriss Brining – they’re talented boys. People forget how young they are because of how long they’ve been talked about.
“Then there’s the likes of Greg Minikin, James Morland, Tim Stubbs, Adam Dent, Harry Carter and Luke Tomlinson – now he is rapid. They’re all really talented.
“Some are far better than we were when we were their age. Greg Minikin is still developing size and strength-wise but he is probably as good at 17 as I am at 30.”
The U20s are in training, with their 12-match league season starting on Thursday, February 28, before which the club plan to arrange at least one friendly.