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Semi-final tests the reserves of Knights squad
YORK City Knights under-20s could be missing at least two of their regular aces for this week’s play-off semi-final due to first-team call-ups – but manager Jack Stearman concedes that is the price of success.
James Ford’s young guns, having finished third in the U20s Championship, go to Featherstone U20s on Thursday (7.45pm) with a place in the play-off final against Salford City Reds up for grabs.
Ben Dent and 18-year-old prodigy Greg Minikin might have to sit it out, though, if they are again called up for first-team action, having impressed in Thursday night’s agonising defeat at Workington.
Gary Thornton’s men go to Doncaster on Wednesday needing to win to survive in the Kingstone Press Championship.
Stearman says the match is the biggest any Knights second-string have faced since the club re-formed 11 years ago, so it would be a shame if two of their brightest starlets missed out. But, he says, the first team comes first.
“Ever since the Knights have had a second team – be it the reserves, U23s, or U20s or whatever – this will be their biggest game,” said former player Stearman. “We haven’t been near the play-offs before. It is a superb achievement for a club like ours.
“The timing of it is unfortunate. People like Ben and Greg deserve to play in it, but then the goal is to develop players for the first team so to have these lads progress so well is success in itself.
“It’s unfortunate that the first team have a few injuries and have four games in little over two weeks, but it’s not unfortunate that Greg and Ben get call-ups – they deserve it.
“The U20s squad is strong enough to push towards the final anyway.”
Stearman, the Knights’ community development chief as well as U20s manager, has lauded the strides made by Ford’s youngsters this year, regardless of how they fare at Featherstone.
He reckons their development shows there is ample rugby league talent in North Yorkshire – as does the number of local lads now coming through the U20s. Add to them Ed Smith and Kriss Brining, both established first-teamers yet still eligible for the U20s.
“North Yorkshire isn’t as highly regarded in rugby league as Leeds, Hull and Castleford,” said Stearman, who is also now head coach of amateurs New Earswick.
“But we have 12, 13, 14 lads from North Yorkshire in our U20s now, and it’s credit to the coaching staff and the players themselves that they’ve come on so much.”
Centre Minikin, from Knaresborough, has played three first-team games aged 18. Winger Dent, from York, has broken into the first XIII a few times.
At 21, he is an overage player for the U20s but two are allowed in each team, with more permitted if agreed by the two competing clubs.
It is yet to be decided how many will play in the semi-final, though Championship big-guns Featherstone had four when the sides met in the league back in March, Rovers winning 52-26.
“Most of our U20s are 17, 18 and 19, so they have years in them yet, to develop as players and physically,” said Stearman.
“If we (the first team) do go down, then quite a few of this team will be capable of stepping up to Championship One level next year. Without the U20s this year, that would not have been possible. The likes of Greg, Ben, Adam Dent, Luke Tomlinson, James Morland, etc – they can all break through.
“When I was playing for the Knights in the 2010 (Championship One) Grand Final, I was the only lad from North Yorkshire in the team. Next year we could have six, seven, eight in there.
“Regardless of how the first team end, the U20s have been a high point for the club.
“There are lots of positives to build on.”
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