YORK City Knights boss Gary Thornton will hand young playmaker James Morland the stand-off role tomorrow eager to check on the skills and game nous he has developed over the past year.
The 18-year-old from Knaresborough is one of five players promoted from the under-20s who will take to the field for the pre-season visit of Championship One rivals Gateshead Thunder (3pm).
While Greg Minikin, 18, has already made a mark on the first team, the likes of hooker Harry Carter, winger Luke Tomlinson, full-back Scott Talbot, all 19, and half-back Morland will get a chance to show what they can do too as Thornton again fields a youthful team following last week’s run-out against Castleford.
Morland, who has made as much progress as anyone over the past 12 months, will start the game, with Thornton keen to see how he now handles open-age rugby league, especially in such a pivotal half-back role.
He said: “He will find it tough to break into the team with Jonny Presley, Benn Hardcastle and Pat Smith in front of him, but we need to see where he is.
“James Ford has had more to do with him from coaching him in the U20s last year and he has faith in him, and I’ve been really impressed with his approach to training and his gym work.
“I’m not sure if this year will be too early but we need to see where he is.
“It’s part of their development and the only way we can see their progress is by throwing them in against bigger and better opposition than they’re used to in the U20s.
“These lads are still teenagers, so we have to remember that, and it’s probably the toughest opposition they will have played against for a while so it’s a big ask, but it’s a good opportunity for them.
“We want to bring them through at the right pace and hopefully they will come through if not this year then next.”
Full-back Luke Hardcastle, pivot Pat Smith, threequarters Tom Rogers and Curtis Macdonald, half-back Jack Pickerill and back-rower Ryan Backhouse will play in front of a home York crowd for the first time, while Jake Joynt and Ben Crane, who have some experience of Huntington Stadium having previously turned out for York’s U20s, will start the game.
Key signing Lee Paterson, as reported, starts at loose-forward, with first-teamers George Elliott, Jack Aldous and Jack Lee also making their 2014 bows.
Austin Bell, Kriss Brining and Jack Iley picked up minor knocks against Cas last week so sit this one out, as do James Haynes and Presley, along with Ed Smith, Jason Golden, James Ford and Nathan Freer, who remain on the road to recovery, and Iain Morrison, who has work commitments as expected.
Ex-Knight Rhys Clarke, who has rejoined home-town club Gateshead from Whitehaven, is sidelined with a broken leg suffered in pre-season but Paul Stamp, another former York player, is likely to turn out. Full-back Sam Lynch, who played twice for the Knights in 2011, is also now a Thunder player, along with brother Tom, the former Featherstone player, following their return to England from Australia.
Thornton said: “Again I’m not too worried about the result but more about the performance, how we play and how we’ve progressed. Gateshead picked up a few decent wins towards the end of last season and it will be a good test for some of our boys.
“We’ve identified a few things we want to work on and we want to continue the good things we did last week. The pitch is not as heavy and we hope to use the ball a bit more.”
Knights: L Hardcastle, Elliott, Minikin, Rogers, B Dent, Morland, P Smith, Aldous, Lee, Joynt, Orange, Crane, Paterson. Subs: Carter, Macdonald, Tomlinson, B Hardcastle, Pickerill, Talbot, Pickles, Mallinder, Backhouse.
• The Rugby Football League’s independent board of directors has ratified the decision for a new structure from 2015 onwards that will see both the Super League and Championship become 12-team competitions that split into three groups of eight in the latter stages of the season.
The bottom two in Super League at the end of this year will be relegated.
Knock-on effects to the format of the Championship and Championship One will be outlined to clubs on February 6.