BIG-HITTING bruiser Joe Pickets is almost certainly on his way back to York City Knights after making a shock appearance in last night’s under-20s reserves friendly against Leigh Centurions.

And in another surprise, fellow loose-forward Ryan Backhouse is also returning to Huntington Stadium after aborting his move to Australia.

Head coach Gary Thornton was delighted by the double boost - but was quick to warn both players they faced a battle to break into the in-form first team, especially if they were aiming to displace 32-year-old Lee Paterson.

“They’ve got a tough job with that,” said Thornton, referring to Paterson, who has been enjoying a new lease of life at his home-town club since re-joining from Whitehaven.

“Lee’s playing out of his skin - he’s been outstanding every week.

“We tend to go with another back-rower on the bench so there’s that, but it’s fair to say we’ve looked pretty good there.

“Ryan has got flexibility - he can play centre, back-row or loose-forward, or even prop if needs be.

“Joe is an out-and-out loose-forward so in that sense has got the toughest task.

“But it’s great to have this competition for places and Joe and Ryan have got good mindsets - they will want to push Lee all the way and push for a first-team spot.

“Lee has been one of our better players every week and at this stage of his career he wants to play as much as he can. Hopefully they’ll keep him on his toes and they in turn will push harder.”

The Press revealed a month ago that Pickets was lining up a return once his rugby union commitments with Beverley end, and he has been a spectator at Huntington Stadium since. Beverley have three matches of their season to go but the 23-year-old, pictured passing the ball, is looking to get used to the 13-a-side code again as quickly as possible, hence his run-out last night.

Said Thornton: “Because it was midweek, he could play. He needs three or four games with the reserves under his belt before he can be considered for the first team. We used it (last night’s game) as an opportunity to get some rugby league into him.”

York-born Backhouse, 20, who impressed in pre-season after joining from Castleford, was also pencilled in to play but had to withdraw as he could not sign forms in time, his registration having been cancelled prior to his journey down under. He had apparently shelled out £1,600 for flights and accommodation in Australia only for the move to fall flat.

He is now lined up to play in the reserves’ match against Oldham a week on Saturday.

Thornton said: “Something went wrong with his move. When he got there it seems it wasn’t what he had been promised with either work or the club he was lined up with.

“He asked to come back and we’re happy to have him.”

Meanwhile, two more Cas stars were named in the Knights’ provisional reserves line-up last night, alongside long-term dual-reg player Ben Reynolds. Jamie Ellis and James Clare had joined Reynolds in donning the York shirt in the reserves’ win over Keighley a fortnight ago, and fit-again winger Ashley Gibson and prop Ryan Boyle were penned in to do likewise last night as they too sought game-time.

Said Thornton: “We’ve got a few injuries ourselves but need to get some of our fringe players on the pitch so to give them (the Cas trio) a game suits both us and them.”

Also pencilled in for a debut last night was 19-year-old New Earswick amateur Reece Blake, who has been training with the development squad.

Thornton added: “Mick Ramsden (U20s reserves coach) obviously has confidence in the lad. Hopefully he can be another one on the conveyor belt coming through.”

• KNIGHTS supporters are running a coach to the Challenge Cup tie away to Swinton on April 6. It will depart Boroughbridge Road (opposite Ainsty) at 11am, Clarence Street at 11.15am, Huntington Stadium at 11.30am and York College at 11.40am. The cost is £18 and fans can book seats by phoning 07443 564453 anytime or the Knights office on 01904 767404.