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Morrison arrival has Knights coach purring over prop power
ARCH-RIVALS Hunslet Hawks might be turning heads with their 2014 recruitment but Gary Thornton says he is happy with how his York City Knights squad is shaping up – especially in the front row.
The recent acquisition of battle-hardened prop Iain Morrison, above, along with the re-signing of former Player of the Year Nathan Freer could yet be complemented by that of Austin Bell following his promising debut season at senior level.
And, with hookers Jack Lee and Kriss Brining, plus prop Jack Aldous, still on board, Thornton reckons he already has a front row to cause trouble throughout Championship One as the Knights – as well as Hunslet – target an immediate return to the Kingstone Press Championship.
“I’m pretty happy with how it’s shaping up,” he said. “The front row is already looking very competitive. Jack Aldous is committed, Nathan’s joined us again and Iain Morrison’s on board. Jack Lee and Kriss play Championship so in Championship One – they’ll be very good.”
As for Bell, 22, inset right, who played 15 games this year, Thornton said: “We’d like him to stay and we’re in negotiations with him. He might be disappointed he didn’t play so much towards the end of the season but, coming straight from under-20s, we didn’t expect him to play every week. We’re hoping he will be back on board, definitely.
“We’ve also got young Tim Stubbs pushing through (from the U20s) as well and we’re hoping he will progress again with a big pre-season behind him.”
Hunslet recently signed Batley stalwart Danny Maun just days after the centre played in the Championship Grand Final – and after the 32-year-old had been linked with York.
They have also taken Brooke Broughton and Aaron Lyons from Huntington Stadium to add to their lengthy list of ex-Knights, including the talismanic David March and Danny Grimshaw, while the re-signing of players like Michael Haley and the Coyle brothers have seen them installed as early favourites for next year’s Championship One title.
However, much-travelled Morrison – who has played for Hull KR, London Broncos and Huddersfield in Super League, Widnes, Featherstone and Halifax in the Championship, and Scotland at international level – is likewise an eye-catching recruit for York.
Said Thornton: “He’s a big, strong, angry athletic person – just what we need,” he said. “You’d expect him to be one of our standout players next season.”
Morrison “retired” in June last year following an injury-plagued spell and difficulties breaking into Halifax’s first team having struggled to attend their strict training regime due to commitments with his personal training business. But he ended the season in Championship One with Oxford Cavaliers and Thornton is optimistic the 30-year-old is ready for a big year before contemplating hanging up his boots for good.
“He’s got a lot of experience playing at a higher level and it will also be fantastic for our younger boys to play alongside him,” said the head coach. “He’s been there and done it and young players can benefit from that.”
Asked if Morrison’s recent injury troubles, including a knee reconstruction and shoulder and bicep problems, was a concern, Thornton said: “He’s not injured now and he’s got his appetite back.
“I had a chat with Karl Harrison (Halifax boss) and he was saying Iain had been starting up a business and could not get to training four times a week as Karl wanted so he couldn’t get in their team.
“But he finished the season at Oxford, going down for matches, and he’s kept himself fit. He’s got a fitness company so I’m sure that helps.
“He’s a smashing lad and I can see from talking to him that he’s coming for the right reasons.
“He’s on pay-as-you-play so he’s not costing us anything if he doesn’t play, but he’s fit and he’s got that mentality – that he wants to come and play well.
“To have that kind of experienced, aggressive prop – we’ve missed that. Maybe, given he’s a bit older now and injuries do take their toll, Championship action is a bit more difficult now, but he will absolutely eat up Championship One.”
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