YORK City Knights fans could get their first sight of marquee signing Iain Morrison tomorrow – as well as the best team outside Super League.
James Ford, the new number two to boss Gary Thornton, will also make his 2014 bow on the pitch as the Knights welcome Championship champions Sheffield Eagles to Huntington Stadium (3pm) for their penultimate friendly of pre-season.
The fixture is a testimonial for Eagles stalwart Andrew Henderson, and both clubs are fielding arguably their strongest line-ups – which they hope will not only attract a big gate but also provide each other with quality mock exams for their respective campaigns to come.
For York, it offers potentially the hardest test of the year given they are now in Championship One, and Thornton was “looking forward” to seeing how his side fare.
“It’s a massive test for us,” said the head coach.
“We’re down a division and they’re Championship champions. If it was a cup game or a competitive fixture then I would say it would be the toughest game we’d face all season.
“With it being a friendly it’s sometimes difficult to gauge, and we’ve got three weeks to go before we start our season. But Sheffield are a very very good team, as they’ve obviously shown with back-to-back titles.”
Morrison, the veteran former Huddersfield, Hull KR, Widnes and Featherstone prop, and like Henderson a Scotland international, has missed much of pre-season due to work commitments.
But Thornton said: “Iain should hopefully be available to play and if so it gives us another option up front. It will be good to see how our pack go against one of the best in the Championship.”
The game is York’s third of pre-season but Sheffield’s first – after their trip to France was curtailed by an air traffic controllers’ strike – and also their last before they kick off their Championship campaign at home to promoted Rochdale next Sunday.
Thornton added: “It will be interesting to see where they are at and also where we are at. They’ve lost a couple of players but have a few new faces in there. The boys are really up for it.
“It’s important we get a lot out of the game. I’m not too fussed about the result. It’s about the performance and making sure we put into practice all the little structures and plays that we’ve been practising in training, and getting it right against quality opposition. If we win, that’s a bonus.”
Jack Pickles, who played 40 minutes for the under-20s on Thursday night, could double up with two run-outs in four days, as could Ed Smith, who impressed on Thursday on his first outing of the year after injury.
Ford, on his way back from ankle surgery, is poised to start at centre, with Josh Nathaniel a likely second-half replacement, while Benn Hardcastle, Pat Smith and Jonny Presley will all get a run in the pivots as Thornton works out his best half-back combination.
For Sheffield, winger Jon Ford and back-rower Will Hope, both signed on loan from Salford yesterday, are likely to make their bows.
Winger Misi Taulapapa has returned from New Zealand and plays, while new recruit Ben Jones – the one-time York prop – could begin a front-row partnership with Championship Player of the Year Mitch Stringer.
Matt Garside, another ex-Knight, and Corey Hanson will be in the spotlight to partner prolific PNG star Menzie Yere in the centres, with USA international Lelauloto Tagaloa still awaiting his UK visa.
Coach Mark Aston said: “We need to have as many of the first team regulars as possible out there.”
Knights: from Haynes, L Hardcastle, Minikin, Ford, Nathaniel, Elliott, B Hardcastle, P Smith, Presley, Morrison, Aldous, Joynt, Bell, Pickles, Lee, Brining, Crane, Mallinder, Paterson, E Smith.
• YORK’S arch-rivals, Hunslet, who are set to begin Championship One as title favourites, have now added Andy Ballard, formerly of Barrow, Oldham and Swinton, to their ranks.