Knights U20s withdraw from merit league to run challenge matches instead

John Guildford

John Guildford

First published in Sport York Press: Photograph of the Author by

YORK City Knights’ under-20s reserves will not partake in league competition this year – citing travel costs as a big reason for pulling out.

The club will instead arrange U20s friendlies throughout the year, and chairman John Guildford is confident that will prove just as beneficial, if not more so, for their up-and-coming aces – as well as end the need to call on local amateurs to make up the numbers at late notice.

The Knights U20s – under then coach James Ford, who is now a player/assistant at first-team level – provided some of the high points of the club’s 2013 relegation season as they reached the top-three play-offs in their U20s Championship.

However, Guildford fears changes to the U20s merit league format in 2014, which will see the introduction of new Cumbrian, North East and Midlands academy sides, plus the inclusion of Gloucestershire All Golds, will compromise the standards, as well as send travel costs soaring.

Additionally, it is thought some traditional clubs only decided to join the league late on when they were told it was a stipulation of possible promotion to Super League under the new restructure, and what teams they put out remains to be seen.

Guildford explained his club’s reasons for pulling out.

“We’re not sure some of the new teams will provide the challenge we need for our U20s, especially when you consider the long distances they will have to travel for matches,” he said.

“It will be difficult for our part-time young lads to take time off from work or studies to travel four or five hours to Gloucester and back, and the cost to the club is also prohibitive.

“It’s ridiculous really. We can’t afford to keep running all over the country.

“We will instead be running our U20s by playing friendlies, or challenge matches, against the better sides. They will still be competitive.”

The Knights already have one U20s outing arranged, against Halifax at Huntington Stadium on Thursday, February 6, and plan to take on the likes of Sheffield, Keighley, Featherstone and Leigh during the spring and summer, once the fixtures are ratified by the Rugby Football League.

“Lots of teams weren’t going to run an U20s reserve team six or seven weeks ago, before finding out it would be one of the stipulations of being allowed promotion,” said Guildford.

“Personally, I think every club should have a reserve side – I’m a big believer in that – and I hope the situation quickly sorts itself out so we can have the right kind of competition.”

Guildford actually envisages little change to the number and quality of matches the Knights U20s will face in 2014.

They played ten league games in 2013, with Rochdale and South Wales both cancelling matches due to a lack of numbers. Several of the games were also arranged ad hoc.

This year, they will again arrange fixtures as and when – but without the threat of penalties if games do not go ahead.

“It probably works better for clubs at our level,” said Guildford, who reckoned good quality training was perhaps more useful to young players than simply turning up to play a game.

“At times we were bleeding players from the amateur game. We don’t want to do that – we’re trying to help each other.

“Our lads can have more quality time (in training) rather than us having to chase round for a team, which is one of the things that annoyed the amateur clubs.

“I’m confident there will still be regular fixtures but we can have them when it suits us and our players.

“The players came on in leaps and bounds last year and that was largely down to the work they did with Fordy and (U20s assistant-coach) Mick Cook off the playing field as much as on it.”

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