GARY THORNTON is putting his trust in Jack Lee and has backed his skipper to give his all for York City Knights' promotion challenge - despite his impending switch to title foes Hunslet.
The Press revealed this week that the 25-year-old hooker is leaving Huntington Stadium this winter to join the Hawks - a move that stokes up the rivalry between the clubs prior to next week's clash and the play-offs that follow, when the pair will vie for the sole promotion place.
Lee himself says his goal this year has not changed - he wants to help York go up "even if that means Hunslet stay in Championship One". And Thornton says there has so far been nothing to suggest that is not the case.
"I'm bitterly disappointed he's moving on," said Thornton. "People know what I think about Jack Lee. His performances this year have been fantastic.
"I can understand why he's gone down that route, though I'm disappointed it comes at this stage of the season. He's made his decision based on what's best for his family's future, but we're focusing on the present.
"York are his current employers, the Knights are his current team and I think Jack will remain loyal to that. We set out to win promotion and that has not changed.
"From what I know about him, he's a very professional person and I have no reason to doubt him. He's a top-class lad. I've got a friendship with him as well as a working relationship and I think we have to trust him. He's not going to start throwing games.
"I knew of his situation some weeks ago and his performances have not changed whatsoever. He's continued to deliver terrific performances. Last Sunday at Gloucestershire when the chips were down I threw him back on and he changed the game for us."
Thornton admitted he had never faced this scenario before as a coach. Players are free to speak to other clubs, and clubs can make approaches for the following season, as of June 1 in any given year. But this year is slightly different as only one promotion place is up for grabs.
"It's a tough one for sure," he said. It's a situation we did not want to find ourselves in. If his performances start showing signs that it's on his mind I might have to make a big call, but he's given me his word that he will continue to perform and I trust that.
"He's been one of the best players this year and has continued to be despite his decision about next year."
Asked if the move may affect Lee during the play-offs - especially if York meet Hunslet in the Grand Final - Thornton said: "It might be in the back of his mind, but he must have considered this when making his decision. He's decided to secure his future early doors, which is fair enough. But he is still a York player this year and he has a responsibility to deliver for the Knights."