HEAD coach Gary Thornton insisted he had no qualms in dipping into dual-reg for York City Knights’ crunch match at arch-rivals Hunslet – saying his bigger selection decisions were elsewhere.
Thornton will hand a debut to full-back Ben Reynolds, who is expected to spend the year at Huntington Stadium on dual-registration from partnership club Castleford.
And, in a controversial move, he will also field Jake Webster in his starting XIII after the Tigers made the former New Zealand international available for Championship One rugby on his return from a year’s injury absence.
Critics say this goes against the spirit of dual-reg, which is designed to bring young players through, especially with 30-year-old Webster needing special dispensation as an overseas player. But Thornton, having bemoaned several aspects of his club’s dual-reg partnership with Hull last year, says the Cas duo’s inclusion this week “works well”.
His bigger calls, he added, came in picking his half-backs and hookers, with fit-again Jonny Presley brought in and Kriss Brining left out.
“It’s a good option to have – the timing has been good,” said Thornton of the Cas duo. “This is where dual-reg works for us. We’ve got a gap at right-centre and they have a right-centre available.
“It wasn’t a tough decision in that respect (to pick them). The bigger decision was in the pivots.”
Reynolds takes over from Luke Hardcastle, who had a disappointing debut in the opening-day win over Gloucestershire, while number one James Haynes is still ruled out.
Webster solves the Knights’ centre worries with James Ford sidelined. Teenager James Morland filled in last week but the Knights wanted more experience to go up against Hunslet dangerman Danny Maun.
“The players missing out are both young fellas. It’s a big game and we have to bring them through at the right pace,” said Thornton.
“Ben Reynolds, for his part, has trained with us for three weeks and played in our under-20s. He looks sharp.”
Webster has been out for 12 months with a knee injury. Asked if rustiness was a worry, Thornton added: “It might be, but full-time Super League training is very intense and we’ve been told he’s been involved in pretty intense sessions.”
Presley will form a half-back partnership with Pat Smith, with Benn Hardcastle relegated to the bench. When captain Jack Lee has a breather, the in-form Smith will go in at hooker, Hardcastle entering at half-back.
“Those were the bigger decisions,” said Thornton. “Kriss Brining misses out.
“Benn gets another chance off the bench. He’s got the ability to turn a game and win it for us.”
Prop Jack Aldous returns from his ban, Ben Crane making way.
Thornton reckons this is a good time to play Hunslet, the promotion favourites, who have held a stranglehold over York in recent years – eight straight wins punctured only by one draw and a defeat in a friendly.
He said: “The most important thing is what happens in September (in the play-offs), but this gives us an early look at them and is a good measure for us against the favourites.”
Knights (probable): Reynolds, Elliott, Webster, Minikin, B Dent, Presley, P Smith, Aldous, Lee, Bell, E Smith, Golden, Paterson. Subs: from B Hardcastle, Morrison, Joynt, Mallinder, Freer, Crane.
Hunslet: from Kain, Mapals, Cook, Watson, Wilson, Maun, Ballard, T Coyle, Ansell, Houston, D March, Stenchion, Oakes, Lyons, Mackay, Hood, Broughton, Reed, Haley.
Referee: Adam Gill (Widnes).