GARY THORNTON has been quick to praise the efforts of his York City Knights front men in the past few weeks of pre-season – and their form could prove handy given that Nathan Freer seems unlikely to start the season.

Former Press Player of the Year Jack Aldous, Austin Bell, new recruit Jake Joynt, and Jack Pickles, who has been pushed forward from the back row, have all shown up well in the two friendlies to date, while marquee signing Iain Morrison, after work commitments, is due to make his club bow against Sheffield in the Andrew Henderson Testimonial a week tomorrow.

It leaves the club reasonably well set with front-rowers for the start of the season – even though Freer has been absent for some time.

A hand injury picked up while playing rugby union in November put him behind schedule. He has not been seen at any pre-season outing so far but the 24-year-old was at least expected at their pre-season photoshoot today.

Head coach Thornton has already intimated, however, that Aldous, Bell, Joynt and Pickles were some way ahead in the race to start the Championship One campaign.

The club are also yet to run the rule over new signing Nathan Harper, who has been sidelined with illness, while there is talk highly-rated young Castleford prop Dan Fleming, who impressed for Batley in the Championship last year, could be in line for a long dual-registration spell at York.

“Jack was outstanding against Gateshead last week, and so was Jake Joynt,” said Thornton.

“I’ve pushed Jack Pickles up to prop and he handled himself really well against Castleford. Austin Bell has also been impressive. These four have done really well and, with Iain Morrison due back in training, we’re looking strong up front.

“I feel sorry for Nathan Harper as he trained really well but then got glandular fever, but we hope he will be available soon.

“There’s a possibility of a good prop from Cas as well and, while I’d prefer to use dual-reg as a fall-back rather than first choice, it leaves us pretty well set up front.”

Elsewhere in the pack, Jason Golden is pencilled in to make his long-awaited return in the last friendly of pre-season, against York Select on February 16.

Former Super League second-row Golden, 28, was a big signing last winter but played only four games before a serious shoulder injury ended his 2013 campaign. He has nevertheless been named club captain for 2014.

Thornton said: “The Sheffield game is probably that little bit too early – he’s been out for so long that we won’t risk it – but we’re looking at the York Select game.”