GARY THORNTON has hit back in the battle of wills against arch-rivals Hunslet by declaring squads, structures and spirit win titles – not late-in-the-day new signings.
Thornton’s York City Knights go to South Leeds Stadium tomorrow (3pm) for their penultimate game in Championship One knowing victory will all but seal top spot and a big advantage in the promotion play-offs.
Hunslet have upped the stakes though. After upsetting the Knights applecart by enticing talisman Jack Lee to pen a deal there for next season, they have bolstered their current squad by snapping up Super League star Richard Moore for the rest of the season following his release by Wakefield – after the player told Thornton he was going on holiday and didn’t want to sign anywhere.
And just before yesterday's transfer deadline in Championship One, they announced former Knights favourite Luke Hardbottle would be with them for the play-offs on returning from Australia. The back-row, who has penned a deal for 2015 too, was supposed to rejoin York last year but stayed down under.
They had already recruited James Duckworth from London Broncos and loaned Leeds threequarter Luke Briscoe and Keighley forward Ross Peltier.
Moore, Duckworth, Briscoe and Peltier will all line up tomorrow, when a home win will open the door for the Hawks or Oldham to finish top, especially if York don’t get a bonus point.
But Thornton, whose side have beaten Hunslet 28-26 and 40-0 this term, said: “We’re using it as a positive. They’re having to bring new players in because they weren’t good enough to compete with us.
“We’ve got a consistent squad that’s been here a long time. We’ve brought some players in, like Brad Brennan, Colton Roche and Josh Tonks, but they’ve been with us a while now and are established. We can stick with what we’ve got because we believe in them.
“We’re on this eight-game winning run in which we’ve been pretty consistent.
“We’re not panicking. We’re sticking with and believing in this group of players.”
Asked if he thought Hunslet were panicking, he said: “Looking at what they’re doing, it seems they didn’t have confidence in their existing squad so they’ve changed it. I have confidence in my players.
“We’re better off than them. It’s not individual signings that win matches, it’s squads and team structures and people buying into it. I’m comfortable with what we’re doing.”
Hunslet were always favourites to land Moore after his release from Belle Vue, as transfer deadlines had already passed in Super League and the Championship so he could only go to a Championship One club, and he has previously played at South Leeds Stadium on dual-reg as well as under Hawks boss Barry Eaton at Crusaders. His brother, former Knight Chris Clough, is also at Hunslet.
But Thornton was “disappointed” to learn he'd gone. He said: “When we heard he was available we contacted him and I was categorically told by the player he'd turned down a number of offers so didn’t feel it right to sign for York. Then he goes and signs for Hunslet. I was told he was going on holiday.
“I would have preferred honesty, but that’s up to him.
“But look. Gateshead came here last week with three Super League players (Rhys Lovegrove, Jordan Cox and Kris Welham on dual-reg from Hull KR) and we beat them.
“Cox was superb for Hull KR against Wigan on Thursday. Is Richard Moore better than them? We’ve dealt with it before and can cope if Hunslet do it.”
Hunslet chief executive Darren Williams said of Moore: “We spoke to him on Wednesday and he initially gave us the same answer York got, that he was to take time off. But we spoke to him again that evening and on Thursday morning and he’d had a rethink.
“It fell at the right time for us and suits both parties.