GARY THORNTON has hailed birthday boy Lee Paterson’s return to fitness as “like a new signing” ahead of York City Knights’ trip to London Skolars tomorrow – when he will be joined in the ranks by a genuine newcomer to the club.

Veteran star Paterson’s career was in doubt when he suffered a knee injury in the defeat at Oldham in mid-May but it turned out less serious than first feared and he marks his 33rd birthday today with a recall to Championship One action as the buoyant Knights look to maintain top spot.

The loose-forward is named in a provisional 21-man squad alongside teenage second-row Brad Day, who joins on dual-reg from Castleford, and the former club captain’s experience could prove crucial given current skipper Jack Lee is a major doubt after suffering knee ligament damage in last week’s win at Hemel.

Said head coach Thornton: “Lee’s return gives us a real boost. With (props) Austin Bell and Iain Morrison still another week or two away this is a great time for him to come back in.

“Joe Pickets has been playing really well (at loose-forward) but it gives us more opportunity to tighten up in that middle unit.

“Lee was in terrific form before he got injured. Hopefully we'll get him through his game and he will be good for the rest of the season.

“These things can be like a new signing. It gives everyone a lift. We’ve gone through this period without him pretty well, with just the one defeat since that Oldham game. But we’ve now got this boost, with Lee’s experience and even more competition for places.”

Aside Knights regular Ben Reynolds, Day is the first dual-reg player to be taken by York since Dan Fleming played in the surprise home defeat to Oxford in mid-April.

The 19-year-old, who joined the academy at Wheldon Road last year from neighbours Wakefield, is yet to make his first-team bow for the Tigers but trains with the full-time squad.

He could replace Ed Smith, who has been struggling with a suspected hernia for a few weeks.

Said Thornton: “He’s very fit and has a good turn of pace. He’s an all-action player. He’s untried at this level but Daryl Powell (Cas boss) thinks he’ll manage the step up comfortably and Daryl knows the Championships pretty well.

“Ed has been fantastic. You wouldn’t know he’s been struggling given the way he’s been playing but, with Brad available, this might be time to give him a rest and keep him fresh and playing as well as he is towards the end of the season.”

Fellow forward Colton Roche also returns after missing last week’s win at Hemel for family reasons, while Ben Dent is rated 50-50 to retake his place on the wing – otherwise younger brother Adam will make his third appearance for the club. Tyler Craig and Nathan Harper step down.

Meanwhile, Lee has “stretched” ligaments in a knee, meaning young Harry Carter comes back into the travelling party.

Such injuries can sideline a player for a few days or up to six weeks depending on the severity. The risk of doing further damage before it heals properly is being taken into account by boss Thornton and the medical staff.

“There are some big games ahead,” said the head coach, hinting Lee will be omitted, with Carter and Kriss Brining poised to share the dummy-half duties.

“But by the same token we can’t take this one lightly. Skolars are dangerous and they could have some players (on dual-reg) from London Broncos.

“We can’t be blasé about it, and Jack is crucial to that. If the physios think we can patch him up and he’ll be okay we might play him. But we don’t want to risk making it worse, obviously.”

The Skolars, second bottom in a disappointing season so far, go into the game on the back of a 66-6 home thrashing by Gateshead and coach Joe Mbu has challenged them to overcome a “big mental test”.

“We need a massive response,” he said. “All we can do is put it behind us and just respond, and see how the lads come back.”

Knights: from Haynes, B Dent/A Dent, Minikin, Ford, Saltonstall, Reynolds, P Smith, Brennan, Lee/Carter, Aldous, Backhouse, Mallinder, Day/E Smith, Pickets, Brining, Paterson, Roche, Morland.