Knights aiming to avenge home Oxford defeat
Updated 12:39pm Saturday 12th July 2014 in Sport
IT'S not just about revenge but jaded York City Knights players have been re-energised by a desire to prove a point.
That was the view of head coach Gary Thornton ahead of tomorrow's trip to Oxford as the Knights begin a sequence of games against the only three teams to have beaten them in Championship One thus far.
This encounter - switched to Henley Hawks RFC's Dry Leas ground in Henley-on-Thames (3pm) - is also the last of four consecutive far-flung away matches and, while Thornton admitted his side looked weary in the last half-hour of last week's win at London Skolars, he is optimistic the hunger to gain payback and retain top spot in the table will provide the necessary inspiration.
"There is a bit of that," said Thornton when asked if his side are seeking revenge for their only home defeat so far this year, a shock 24-16 reverse in mid-April.
"It was raised by the boys themselves. They were saying we owe these guys. We were poor the day they beat us but we still missed a lot of chances.
"It's personal pride. Nobody likes to get beaten, especially at home. It was a disappointing day all round. The boys were saying even then we'll have to make sure we will beat them away.
"That's not what it's all about, though. I will leave that to the players. I want us to go there and execute plays properly and defend as well as we know we can.
"The good thing is it will bring enthusiasm levels up. Looking back, we were disappointed last week with some of the stuff we came up with and we want to improve on that, and that should lift us as well."
Tomorrow's trip, following those to South Wales, Hemel and London, will see the Knights clock up 1,600 miles in 22 days. They also had a 380-mile round trip to Gloucestershire in June and go there again on August 3, after next week's big home game against second-placed Oldham.
Asked if so many long days on a bus was affecting the team, Thornton said: "I think it is a factor.
"But we looked more energised at training this week. We trained really well. This is the last of the four. We set a target of winning four out of four and we don't want to fall short.
"Hopefully these factors - the desire for revenge, to improve on last week and to make it four from four - will outweigh any negative factor.
"You have to give the boys credit for what they've done so far and I'm hoping we can give them even more credit after this weekend."
Thornton is forced into making at least two changes to the 17 that beat the Skolars.
Prop Brad Brennan begins his two-match ban so, as reported, new loan recruit Jay Leary will make his bow, most probably off the bench, while Greg Minikin is ruled out with his shoulder injury so Brad Day - who came on for him last week and went on to score twice in a man-of-the-match display - starts at centre.
Day, 19, is more a second-row so could interchange roles with Ed Smith, who returns after his week off.
Skipper and top-scorer Jack Lee is also again doubtful with his knee problem so fellow hooker Harry Carter and fit-again half-back Jonny Presley stand by, giving Thornton various options in the pivots.
Props Austin Bell, Iain Morrison and Nathan Freer, all nearing returns from injury, stay on the sidelines.
On Leary, who arrives from Batley having struggled to regain a place in the Bulldogs' line-up, Thornton said: "He might be a bit rusty but it didn't show in training.
"We did some pretty competitive stuff and game scenarios and he got through pretty well."
Oxford boss Tony Benson should have JJ Baird available after he sat out last week’s win over South Wales - a result which ended six straight defeats.
Exciting full-back Sean Morris (knee) - who "ripped us apart" in the reverse fixture, according to Thornton - and prop Karl Temata (back) were facing late fitness tests, having also missed the Scorpions game.
Ex-Knights reserves Jordan Rice and Sam Blaney could play against their former club.
Oxford: from Morris, Crabtree, Briggs, Brooker, Parker, Mulkeen, Connick, Rowland, Davies, Thompson, Osborn, Hayles, Hoggins, Rice, Ellison, Blaney, Sharratt, Vickers, Baird, Temata.
Knights: from Haynes, B Dent, Ford, Day, Saltonstall, Reynolds, P Smith, Roche, Lee, Aldous, Mallinder, E Smith, Pickets, Brining, Paterson, Backhouse, Leary, Presley, Carter.
Referee: Dave Merrick (Castleford).