GARY THORNTON admits there is extra pressure on his York City Knights side to kick off the season in fine fashion – but says there is even more on arch-rivals Hunslet.

The Knights begin their Championship One campaign at home to Gloucestershire All Golds tomorrow (3pm) with head coach Thornton well aware of the need to pick up maximum points – and in good style too – against a fledgling club who finished rock bottom in their debut season last year and are rank outsiders once again.

But he reckons much of the focus this year will be on the Hawks, who were relegated alongside York last year and start the season as clear favourites with the bookies to beat them to the sole promotion place back up. They begin away to another novice club in Hemel Stags.

“We march into the unknown against Gloucestershire and it will be a strange one in that sense, but it’s important to get off to a good start,” said Thornton, who will be without no fewer than 11 players for the season opener.

“We need to win – and obviously winning all our home games is a minimum requirement – so that puts a bit of pressure on us.

“I’m not too bothered if bookies make Hunslet the favourites, though, as that puts pressure on them not us.

“Hunslet have made some decent signings and they’ve got some quality players in there like the Coyle brothers and Liam Hood. Barry Eaton (Hawks coach) has signed experienced players, with not too much youth coming through. I think they will definitely be up there as a threat but I wouldn’t rule Oldham out either, or one or two others.”

York are second favourites, but Thornton added: “I don’t really mind where the bookies place us.

“The pressure is on Hunslet if they’re favourites, and we will get on with our job.”

Thornton admitted he knew little of opening opponents the All Golds.

The fact the visitors have had only two pre-season run-outs – a 16-12 defeat to Hull Under-19s in January and a 36-4 win over an unheralded Gloucester Select XIII – means he has little DVD evidence to go on.

However, he warned of several threats, not least at hooker, where veteran Championship and former Super League schemer Craig Cook will provide a stern test, even if Welsh international Steve Parry, the club’s Players’ Player of the Year, is ruled out injured.

Former Knight Mark Barlow will start at stand-off. Captain Michael Stewart, a Scotland international, is ruled out, however.

Said Thornton: “They’ve got Craig Cook and he’s a very good player, and there’s Mark Barlow, of course. I know a bit about Danny Thomas at scrum-half as well. He’s a Dewsbury lad and played for Dewsbury Celtic ARLC and has spent time at Dewsbury Rams and Batley.

“They are an unknown quantity in many ways, though. But it’s one of those where we can’t worry about them. We’ve got to sort ourselves out. If we get our house in order, work to our structures and strengths, we will be okay.”