DAVE WOODS has played down his desire to beat old employers York – saying he wants to win this game no more than any other.
The Aussie, who is still in dispute with the Knights over his exit from Huntington Stadium 16 months ago, returned to a head coach role with promoted Whitehaven in the off-season.
As luck would have it, his first competitive game in charge is at home to his old charges in tomorrow’s Championship opener (3pm), giving the clash extra spice. Includ-ed in his 20-man squad for the game are three ex-Knights in Lee Paterson, Neil Thorman and Rhys Clarke, the latter being released by York in the off-season.
However, Woods says the most important thing for all of them was picking up the three points.
“I think I’m bigger than that really,” he said, when asked if he was out for revenge. “It’s about winning games. It doesn’t matter who the opposition is.
“I’ve got some good memories from York and I still know a few of the players who are there. Gary Thornton (Knights new coach) is a tremendous fella. It’s a matter of getting on and playing the game. If we win, that’s great; if we don’t, we’ll shake hands.
“I want to win any game. I hate losing. You obviously like to win against your former club but it’s not the be all and end all.”
Whitehaven have endured a period of decline since the mid-naughties when they lifted the National League One (Championship) League Leaders’ Shield, reached two consecutive grand finals – missing out on automatic promotion to Super League when losing to Widnes and a Castleford side then coached by Woods – and made it to the Northern Rail Cup final. Money woes led to a relegation, but they are back in rugby league’s second tier now and the Aussie says they want to break into the play-offs too.
“I think we’ve got to look at that,” he said. “We’re certainly going in with our eyes open and we know it’s going to be super-tough. But if we can do well at home and win the majority of those games, with it being eight-team semi-finals, you’ve got to set sights on finishing around that area.”
Woods – who took his team on a four-day trip to the south of France prior to the season kick-off, during which they lost 40-30 to Carcassonne in their final friendly – can call on Haven’s partnership with St Helens to boost his side with dual-reg players but he said he would not do that just yet.
“I’ve said to our blokes it’s fair to give them the first opportunity,” he explained.
“They’ve done the hard work in the off-season. If we take players from Saints now and we get beat, where do we go? We’ve got to give our blokes the opportunity to keep that team harmony and team spirit that we’ve built up.
“That’s not saying that next we won’t take any either. It depends on how we perform.”
Haven in focus
Last year: fourth in Championship One.
Current league position: n/a.
Coach: Dave Woods.
Aussie Dave Woods has made a few signings that raised eyebrows since taking the reins in the off-season, not least the skilful Neil Thorman, another ex-Knight in York-born Lee Paterson, and ex-Super League forwards Paul Jackson and Sebastien Martins, the France international.
PNG prop Rodney Pora also promises to add power up front when he arrives at the end of February.
However, Haven didn’t pull up trees last year in Championship One and ex-Super League half-back Jamie Rooney, inset, can frustrate as often as he inspires.
Woods will hope his links with St Helens can bring in decent dual-reg recruits – although he says he will run with his own players in the season opener against York. He’ll want to start with a bang, either way, avenging his controversial departure from the Knights 16 months ago.
Squad for tomorrow: from James Cameron, Craig Calvert, Jessie Joe Parker, Martyn Wilson, Scott McAvoy, Chris Fleming, Jamie Rooney, Cain Southwernwood, Paul Jackson, Neil Thorman, Seb Martins, Carl Sice, Dave Houghton, Rhys Clarke, James Newton, Paul Cullmean, Lee Doran, Brad Crellin, Lee Paterson, Shane Ackerley.
One to watch: Jessie Joe Parker gives the team punch and peril in the threequarters.
Partnership club: St Helens.
Season prediction: Wily Woods might just shock a few people in their battle to consolidate Championship status.
Ground: The Recre.
Miles from York: 141. Phone 07763 121732 for seats on Supporters’ Club bus.
Nearest train station: Whitehaven (via Preston or Manchester, and Barrow; or via Newcastle and Carlisle) 0.9 miles. Visit www.tpexpress.co.uk for train times and fares.