YORK City Knights returned to pre-season training this week with boss Gary Thornton warning his charges they were to face some gruelling sessions following their festive break.

The fact the Championship One season does not start until March meant the team were able to have the entire Christmas and New Year period off – unlike in previous years in the Championship.

However, having got together for the first time since December 12, preparations were now being stepped up ahead of the first friendly, away to new partnership club Castleford Tigers on Sunday, January 19.

Said Thornton: “Because we started really early in November, it meant they could have Christmas off. I didn’t want it to be three full months of pre-season training because people just get fed up.

“You’d normally do a 12 or 13-week cycle and we’re still doing that. We pushed the intensity up in December because we knew we would give them time off at Christmas. It’s all a science nowadays, with ‘up weeks’ and ‘down weeks’. They’ve had a ‘down week’ and hopefully they will have come back in good shape and ready to lift the intensity up again.”The Knights’ league season starts with a home game against Gloucestershire All Golds on Sunday, March 2.

Thornton added: “It’s still eight weeks before we play (competitively). It’s a long old season – you don’t finish until September and you’re back in in November. I think people need time off with their family and, in that regard, it is a benefit of starting the league in March as we could give them Christmas off.

“The players have been a good group so far. They all trained really well in December and I’m sure they’ll lift things again now.”

Prop Nathan Freer has missed a large chunk of pre-season after suffering a hand injury playing rugby union for Bishop Burton College but he should be back in full contact training soon, meaning he could be okay to play in the Cas game.

The Knights also have friendlies arranged against Gateshead on January 26 and a York Select XIII on February 16, while Thornton was hoping to arrange a fourth pre-season fixture, with Championship One rivals Hunslet and Oldham mooted as potential opponents.

The club also plan to meet Halifax some time in February in what will ostensibly be an under-20s friendly.