GARY THORNTON is confident complacency will not strike his York City Knights side this weekend – believing competition for places and the intriguing challenge afoot will keep his men on their toes.
The Knights hammered title favourites Hunslet 40-0 last time out to temporarily take over leadership of Championship One.
That was seen as the game of the season so far and came just seven days after a 31-30 reverse at fellow promotion hopefuls Oldham. Tomorrow’s hosts, Gloucestershire All Golds, represent less of a test on paper, but Thornton reckons the trip to the South West still represents a notable challenge – and one which his players will be up for as they look to regain top spot.
“Complacency is not a word I will be using in the changing rooms,” he said. “There won’t be from the coaching staff, that’s for sure.
“It’s a tough trip and there’ll be a tough challenge when we get there. We’re preparing like for any other game and the players will do the same.
“The competition for places is massive now. There are people like James Haynes waiting in the wings, Jake Joynt is hoping to get more training time after his new job, Jack Pickles will be back soon, Iain Morrison is chomping at the bit, Nathan Freer wants to get back when he can, Greg Minikin is on his way back.
“Across the board there are plenty of people wanting to take a shirt. The players realise that. The 17 this weekend are custodians of the shirt and, while I will be happy to play the same 17 again next week, they know that to stay in they have to perform again.”
He added: “It’s important we kick on. There’s still improvement in this team and lots to work on. We’re nowhere near our end goal yet.”
The Hawks returned to the Championship One summit last Sunday when York were without a fixture but, with the south Leeds side having no game this weekend, both the Knights and Oldham can leapfrog them into first place.
A main man standing in York’s way, though, and adding to their “tough challenge”, is All Golds’ new boss Steve McCormack, the Cumbrian who led outsiders Scotland to the World Cup quarter-finals in the autumn.
A former Salford boss, he also took both Widnes and Whitehaven to National League One (Championship) Grand Finals and masterminded Swinton’s promotion from Championship One in 2011.
He returned to club rugby when replacing Brad Hepi at Gloucestershire earlier this month.
“He’s a shrewd, experienced coach,” said Thornton. “He knows what’s required and has brought in some good loan signings where he needed to strengthen.
“They’ve made a few changes and I think they will be a different challenge to the first game of the season.
“They will be a tough team to beat, especially on their own pitch.
“That said, I’m confident with the way we’ve been training that if we can take that skill level into the match we will be fine.”
Thornton added: “It’s our first big away journey of the season so it’s something new for us, and that does have an impact. But we’ll try to make it an enjoyable experience and break down the journey.
“We don’t know what the conditions will be yet, either. There was lots of rain forecast so we don’t know if we’ll be playing on a quagmire of a pitch. We want a decent surface as that suits us, but we’ll see.”
Thornton was poised to field the same 17 that beat Hunslet but player/assistant-coach James Ford is rated only 40-60 due to a quad injury, so, with fellow centre Minikin still sidelined, Tyler Craig is set for a long-awaited first-team start.
Ash Haynes may also be called up to the travelling party for the first time since returning to the club, but primarily as cover, rather than to play against his former team.
“It’ll be good for him to go back down there but I’m sure he’d rather play than be 18th man,” said Thornton. “He’s not far off. He’s been doing well in training and is pushing the guys in there (at second-row).”
Knights (probable): Reynolds, B Dent, Craig, Morland, Saltonstall, P Smith, Presley, Brennan, Lee, Aldous, E Smith, Mallinder, Pickets. Subs: Carter, Bell, Backhouse, Roche. Standby: from A Haynes, Pickles, Harper.