ED SMITH will make his long-awaited 2014 bow for York City Knights tonight when they take on Championship big guns Halifax in what is ostensibly an under-20s friendly.
Second-row Smith has missed the Knights’ first two pre-season matches after ankle surgery but is now ready to don the shirt and could even double up by also playing Championship champions Sheffield in the Andrew Henderson Testimonial on Sunday – when both clubs are expected to field their strongest sides.
A veteran of 46 first-team games, Smith only turned 21 in November, although that now makes him an overage player for the U20s – one of six named in the 18-man party for tonight.
The others are Jack Pickles, 21, Jack Iley, 23, Sam Orange, 21, Jack Pickerill, 21, and Josh Nathaniel, 22, with forwards Pickles and Iley and threequarter Nathaniel also candidates to play on Sunday.
New U20s head coach Mick Ramsden, himself a second-row in his playing days, said of Smith: “His rehab has gone well. He’s had a good off-season in the gym – he looks stronger and I’m keen to see how he goes.
“He’s one of the club’s rising stars – he always has been from his scholarship days.”
Among the new signings on show tonight (8pm kick off) are outside-backs Curtis Macdonald and Tom Rogers, who are eligible for U20s rugby, half-back Pickerill and Nathaniel.
Halifax will bring a decent side given their strength in depth and Ramsden was aware it would be a big test – especially up front.
Pickles and Orange are being pushed forward from the second row, with the former likely to play limited minutes to save him for Sunday and the latter still working his way back from a year’s injury absence.
Youngster Tim Stubbs is the only prop on the bench.
“It’s asking a lot of Sam and Tim but I think they’ll do all right,” Ramsden added.
Knights head coach Gary Thornton said: “The plan is not to over-play people in these two games, but we might have to juggle a few because of a couple of injuries. That said, if people play well (tonight) there might be a case to see how they go against Sheffield.”
Knights U20s: Talbot, Macdonald, Nathaniel, Rogers, Tomlinson, Morland, Pickerill, Pickles, Carter, Orange, E Smith, Craig, Iley. Subs: Green, Batty, Swift, A Dent, Stubbs.
• EX-Knights favourite Matt Nicholson has been ruled out for six to nine months with a knee injury suffered in a pre-season fixture for new club Featherstone. The luckless prop missed much of last season at York due to a shoulder operation.