A NEW front-row fillip is on the cards for York City Knights – but boss Gary Thornton must first overcome more pressing prop problems ahead of the kick-off to their home campaign.
Former The Press Player of the Year Nathan Freer is in talks about returning to the club next month, once his teaching training and rugby union commitments at Bishop Burton College finish.
In addition, fellow front-rower Paul King is close to agreeing new terms at Huntington Stadium and, while a virus means he is out of contention for Sunday’s visit of Swinton Lions, he could yet feature as an over-age player in an under-20s friendly at Featherstone next Wednesday.
The Press revealed that the former Super League star was to become available again, having missed all of pre-season, and effectively leaving the club, due to work commitments.
But Thornton faces more immediate issues ahead of Sunday’s Championship clash.
Josh Bowden, who started up front in last weekend’s loss at Whitehaven, has been recalled by parent club Hull to provide cover, while Matty Nicholson, who should have done likewise but pulled a groin in the warm-up, is rated 50-50 to return.
Luke Stenchion remains sidelined by an ankle problem, while Adam Sullivan will miss a fortnight’s action once he finally has the injection meant to sort out his long-standing knee problem.
Said the head coach: “We’ve spoken to Nathan. He had to relinquish his contract (in the off-season) because of college commitments but its union season is coming to an end. We might have him here as early as March. That will give us another boost to that middle area.
“We’ve brought in some props but it hasn’t quite worked out for them. To be able to have Paul King and Nathan Freer back would be a boost, and it would be good to get them on board as quickly as we can.”
The Knights will have a choice of five dual-reg Hull players again this weekend, but with prop Bowden being replaced in that quintet by fit-again winger Jack Briscoe.
It means if Nicholson is not fit, Thornton will likely push a second-rower up front at some point in the game rather than bring Russ Dale or trialist Jake Joynt into the equation. Dale is not fit enough having missed the bulk of two seasons due to injury and both he and fellow former Wakefield youngster Jake Joynt might have to first prove themselves in the U20s.
Another prop brought in over the off-season, Clark Thompson, from Castleford, left the club without donning the shirt, due to work commitments.
Thornton added: “We’ve still got Austin Bell, Adam Sullivan and Jack Aldous. It was a bonus that Sully got through Sunday’s game and it looks like he will be good to go again.
“We’ve had a second opinion on (his knee) and the specialist says he’s fine to play – in that there will be no permanent damage – but it will be very painful. Once he goes in for the procedure he will need two weeks’ rest for it to settle down.
"He’s basically playing through the pain and, while sometimes last season he was unable to go back once he came off, on Sunday he said it was bearable, which is good. He’ll play under the same circumstances this week.”
Back-rowers Ed Smith, ruled out last Sunday due to a dead leg in pre-season, and Tyler Craig, who suffered whiplash in a recent car crash, are back in training, as is centre Aaron Lyons, though the latter is only 50-50 to be in contention this weekend due to his tricep injury.
• GRAND Final-winning star Kylie Leuluai and fellow prop Richard Moore are the latest Leeds Rhinos players to be dual-registered with the Knights’ Championship rivals Hunslet.
Neither was included in Leeds’ 19-man squad for their season-opening win over Hull, having undergone off-season surgery, and likewise are not in the squad for Sunday’s game at Castleford.
They will instead join club-mate Liam Hood in south Leeds ahead of the Hawks’ trip to Leigh, although Jimmy Keinhorst has been recalled to Headingley after scoring two tries on his Hunslet debut in their win over Barrow.