GARY THORNTON has told his young charges to simply go out and enjoy themselves tomorrow when they make their bows in the club’s first friendly of 2014.
No fewer than 11 new faces will be on view as Thornton takes an untried and untested group to Castleford (1pm) – including former Hunslet threequarter Josh Nathaniel, who signed forms on Thursday night, and Ryan Backhouse, who has enjoyed a successful trial spell. Both began their careers at Cas.
Head coach Thornton is under no illusions about the task at hand against a Tigers side who, as reported by The Press, are poised to start the game with a predominantly Super League side on the field. But, while a heavy scoreline is being predicted by many, he says getting a good hit-out is more important than the result.
“We have a very young team,” said Thornton, who will be without a plethora of likely first choices come the season’s start, especially in the pack with marquee signing Iain Morrison and Lee Paterson unavailable due to work and Nathan Freer and Jason Golden not ready after injury.
New recruit Nathan Harper is sidelined after glandular fever, captain Jack Lee will not be risking a hamstring pull, Ed Smith is recovering from a knee clearout, and Jack Aldous is suspended due to his red card against Doncaster at the end of last season.
“We obviously have concerns as we’re light up front and it leaves us a bit vulnerable.
“It is a big test. We’re going to play a Super League side from two divisions above and we’ll be going in with a young team. We’re under no illusions. I’ve told the players to go and enjoy it and do their best, and not let themselves down.
“Cas will be far in front of us in terms of fitness and organisation – they’re further ahead in their pre-season and they’re full time. We know all that.
“It’s not an excuse, though. We’ve just got to give our best and, whatever happens, stick together, and, when we get chances, make the most of them.
“There’s nothing at stake. It’s a case of getting the lads out there. I think they are really looking forward to it.”
Player/assistant-coach James Ford, once of Cas, also sits the game out as he recovers from ankle surgery, as does George Elliott due to a back complaint.
Some Knights fans will therefore know little of the York side on view, many of whom have risen out of academy football.
Thornton added: “We’re all going to find out a bit more about them. They’ve all trained really really well, though.“I know about their character but how they handle playing against men remains to be seen.
“Curtis McDonald for one is a very brave winger. He’s not scared of anything and has plenty of pace, and I’m looking forward to seeing him play.
“There’s Tom Rogers – you won’t miss him as he’s 6ft 5in and he’s skilful as well. It’ll be interesting to see how he goes against men.
“Pat Smith is buzzing, and Benn Hardcastle looks really good in training, and I’m looking forward to seeing their combination with Jonny Presley (in the pivots).”
Also making their bows will be former Featherstone reserve half-back Jack Pickerill, full-back Luke Hardcastle, who has signed with brother Benn from Gateshead, and – at long last – Sam Orange, who joined his home-town club from Cas a year ago only for his debut season to be wiped out due to a knee reconstruction.
Also involved in a 21-man party are Jake Joynt and Ben Crane, who have played for the club’s under-20s before but never first grade, and young guns Greg Minikin, Ben Dent, Tim Stubbs and Jack Iley, who will press for more first-team chances this term after starring for the U20s last year.
With Austin Bell, Ryan Mallinder and Jack Pickles – all with only one season of first-grade behind them – and 20-year-old sub hooker Kriss Brining making up the pack, the only real experience is provided by scrum-half Presley and full-back James Haynes, who gets first dabs at taking back his old number one shirt after rediscovering fitness and form in the amateur arena.
Knights: Haynes, McDonald, Rogers, Minikin, B Dent, B Hardcastle, Presley, Joynt, P Smith, Bell, Mallinder, Crane, Pickles. Subs: Brining, Stubbs, Pickerill, Nathaniel, L Hardcastle, Orange, Backhouse, Iley.
Castleford: from Tansey, Carney, Sneyd, Lynch, Huby, Millington, Clark, Holmes, Mariano, Wheeldon, Owen, Channing, Clare, Fleming, Finn, Martin, Reynolds, Seymour, Howden, Day, Maher.