York City Knights relish Hunslet battle
Updated 1:39pm Saturday 24th May 2014 in Sport
"BRING it on." Those were the words from head coach Gary Thornton as York City Knights prepare for their top-of-the-table clash with "friends and arch-rivals" Hunslet at Huntington Stadium tomorrow (3pm).
He has backed them up with actions, too, by bringing big-hitting Joe Pickets back into the side for his second debut, while also throwing Championship-winning new recruit Colton Roche straight into the forward mix after just one training session with the club.
"There are a lot of rivalries between York and Hunslet and a lot of friendships too from previous seasons," said Thornton, acknowledging the high movement of players between the two clubs ever since Paul March was sacked as Knights player-coach in 2009, took over at South Leeds Stadium and took almost a full team with him.
"There's been a bit of banter and we've been hearing how they're going to come here and smash us - so bring it on.
"They are probably the form team at the minute. Their performances since we beat them at their place have been more impressive than ours - we've limped over the line a couple of times while they've been blowing some of these new teams away. But this week's game is this week's game and we accept the challenge."
As revealed on The Press website, thepress.co.uk, on Thursday night, Roche has penned a deal until the end of the season after being released by Championship big-guns Featherstone.
The 20-year-old Ireland international forward came through the ranks at hometown club Leeds before moving to Championship champions Sheffield for 2013 and making 19 appearances as the Eagles retained their title.
He joined Featherstone in the winter but struggled to nail down a first-term berth and, after the departure of head coach John Bastian, he too was shown the exit door.
Thornton reckons Fev's loss is York's gain, though, and possibly Castleford's too, with the Tigers able to have a closer look at him through their partnership with the Knights, having shown interest last year.
"It never worked out for Colton at Featherstone but this will hopefully be a good move for him," he said.
"We're delighted to have him, especially with the injuries we've picked up. He's a Championship player in Championship One. It's great to bring in a player of that calibre."
Roche replaces Jack Pickles, while Pickets, back at York following the end of his rugby union commitments, comes in for the crocked Lee Paterson for his 2014 bow.
The Barnsley-based forward was let go by Hunslet earlier in his career due to a penchant for giving penalties away, but became a cult figure in his first spell at Huntington Stadium as he channelled his aggression.
Thornton reckoned this was a good game in which to throw him back in. "He's been patient and is chomping at the bit," he said.
"He will go hard from the start. His aggression and enthusiasm will be fantastic and hopefully everyone will feed off that.
"Hunslet have some good footballers and can play, so we have to spoil them, upset their game-plan and rattle them a bit, and Joe's perfect for that."
In other changes, James Morland comes in for fellow teenager Greg Minikin at centre, the latter ruled out by an ankle injury suffered in last week's heartbreaking loss at Oldham, and fit-again young hooker Harry Carter is set to replace crocked Jack Iley, getting the nod ahead of experienced pivot Jonny Presley.
Austin Bell is also back to beef up the pack.
Hunslet are expected to bring their first-choice 17, with strike centre Danny Maun back fit.
Thornton was wary of Maun's threat but also of the danger the Hawks possess in pivotal positions, with ex-Knight David March at hooker, James Coyle and Danny Ansell set to pair up again at half-back, and Danny Grimshaw, another former York favourite, offering a different option, able to shine in the halves, at loose-forward or, like last week in the win over Gateshead, off the bench at full-back.
Said the Knights coach of Hawks counterpart Barry Eaton: "He's got some selection problems, hasn't he. It will be interesting to see where Danny Grimshaw plays. They've got a lot of threats so we have to be up in their faces and not letting them play."
Knights (probable): Haynes, B Dent, Morland, Ford, Saltonstall, Reynolds, P Smith, Aldous, Lee, Brennan, Mallinder, E Smith, Pickets. Subs: from Carter, Backhouse, Bell, Roche, Craig, Elliott, Presley.
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