GARY THORNTON reckons he will face several selection headaches when York City Knights’ season finally begins – though Nathan Freer is almost certainly some way down the pecking order.
The Knights gave an encouraging display against Sheffield on Sunday, losing 24-18 to the back-to-back Championship winners only because of two late tries.
They did so despite being without major signings Iain Morrison and Lee Paterson, while former Super League second-row Jason Golden is also yet to return from his lengthy injury absence.
Another new forward, Nathan Harper, is still to make his bow due to injury.
Head coach Thornton says picking a pack – and one that suits a new-look formation – will most probably be among his toughest decisions come the Championship One opener at home to Gloucestershire All Golds on March 2, as will choosing his pivots.
“We’ll have some tough selection decisions to make when the season begins,” he said.
“Jason Golden hasn’t played yet and Iain Morrison is to come in, but every one in the 18 who played against Sheffield has made a statement for a start on March 2.
“Iain will be playing next week. He’s self-employed and has had some work commitments but he trained last week and he will be training this week and will be on the field and playing next Sunday. He wanted another week of training before he came in.”
Man-of-the-match Jack Aldous and Jake Joynt started in the front row against Sheffield, with Austin Bell, another prop, impressive at loose-forward.
Said Thornton: “We’re changing the way we play a bit, almost playing three props (rather than two props and a traditional loose-forward). We want three strong units in the middle. That’s not to say we’re playing boring stuff, but just winning the ruck and playing from there.”
Freer has played that “third prop/loose-forward” role in the past so would have been a candidate, but he only returned to the training fray last Thursday and is not currently in the running for selection.
He suffered a hand injury while playing rugby union for Bishop Burton College before Christmas, and a new placement with Hull FC, working as a strength and conditioning coach for their under-19s through their links with his college, affects his availability.
Thornton explained: “He’s got some commitments with their U19s so he’s with them on Tuesdays and misses training with us.
“If he’s not here for training, he can’t come up for selection. I’m not sure where we are with him at the moment.
“I can’t knock the lad for it. He’s got this job through the college so he’s there for their training and he misses ours.
“It’s unfortunate for him but we’ve got strength in depth in that position and it would be unfair not to pick the lads who have been busting a gut over winter and doing well on the pitch.”
Meanwhile, Jonny Presley and newcomers Pat Smith and Benn Hardcastle are competing for the two half-back roles, with Smith also an option at hooker along with regular acting-halves Jack Lee and Kriss Brining.
Said Thornton: “I’ve got some selection problems there as well.
“I thought Pat and Prez were tremendous in the first half, and Kriss Brining didn’t spend any time at hooker because Jack Lee was playing well and Pat also went in there and showed some nice touches.
“Benn Hardcastle showed his quality when he came on. He looked sharp and took good options and was good value for his try.
“It’s nice to have that kind of headache.”