THE Smith family didn’t half have reason to celebrate last night – and the same goes by proxy for York’s amateur rugby league scene.
York City Knights’ presentation evening, held at the Park Inn Radison in the city centre last night, saw six awards handed out.
The most prestigious gong – the Player of the Year award as voted for by the players themselves - went to Hull lad Jack Aldous, and the magic moment prize went to another incomer, Colton Roche, but the other four winners, namely Pat and Ed Smith, Ben Dent and Clubperson of the Year Will Leatt, are all local lads, with the Smith brothers having played for York Acorn juniors and Dent and Leatt having links with New Earswick All Blacks.
Here is the list of winners, with the thoughts of head coach Gary Thornton.
Castles UK-sponsored Fans’ Player of the Year – Pat Smith
This isn’t the supporters’ player of the season organised by KISS (Knights’ Independent Supporters’ Sociey) but the one whereby the club take votes from fans.
Half-back-cum-hooker Smith, in his first season at his home-town club after arriving from Sheffield, has been the little general on the pitch and a quick-witted and considered voice off it.
Thornton said: “Ever since he came in, he’s showed his value. He has a good influence.
“We’ve used him mainly in a pivotal role and he leads well. He’s the guy that takes the game-plan onto the park and carries it out. He’s been very instrumental in what we’ve done.
“A lot of good stuff we do comes on the back of Pat setting up good field position and executing good plays.
“He’s very good off the field as well. He’s positive and a very good contributor and always gets his point across.”
Centurion Rugby Most Improved Player of the Year – Ed Smith
Ben Dent had a shout having turned from bit-part winger still learning his trade last year to top-scorer and one of the first names on the teamsheet.
The recipient, though, is very much deserving. Smith junior was already a regular last year but in a tough Championship environment in the back-row engine room while still in the throes of development.
But rather than take it easy in the off-season after a long, hard year, he knuckled down in the gym and his efforts were instantly obvious at the start of this season when he trotted out looking bigger and bulked up.
He’s likewise become one of the first names on the sheet and one of the most consistent second-rows in Championship One - so much so he more than most should relish a return to the higher tier.
Having made his debut in 2010, it’s hard to believe he’s still only 21.
“Ed deserves it,” said Thornton. “We set him goals in pre-season to develop himself physically to handle his position better both in attack and defence, and he’s reaping the rewards of doing that.
“He’s come on in leaps and bounds, consistently performing well week in, week out.
“Not much gets past him, and his work-rate and contribution to the team have been outstanding. People think he’s older because he came into the first-team environment so young. Some of the hits he puts on, for a 21-year-old kid, he doesn’t half bash them.
“He’ll do very well in the game if he carries on at this rate.”
Loverugbyleague.com Try of the Season – Ben Dent (away to Oxford)
After a season he’s had, the former New Earswick junior, who’s come through the ranks at the Knights, deserves an accolade.
The winger heads York’s try charts with 19 from 20 appearances, but there was no top-scorer gong last night given the season is not yet over. This award makes up for it.
The try in question came at Oxford, during the Knights’ run of four consecutive long away trips. Talking of long-range efforts...
Oxford were attacking the York line and sent up a kick to the corner where they had two against one. The one, though, was Dent.
He leapt highest and plucked the ball out of the air, shrugging of the two opponents as he landed. A quick jink set him off upfield where two defenders gave chase. Dent handed off one and turned on the afterburners to leave the other eating dust.
Thornton said: “Ben has a few candidates for try of the season but were any better than this?
“To out-jump the challengers and take the ball like he did showed athleticism, judgement and bravery, and to then beat two defenders like that – it was a special try, the kind wingers dream of.”
Thornton himself was a winger, albeit shorter than Dent. He joked: “I’m not sure I could have jumped that high. But it was certainly a try I would’ve been proud of.”
Pryers Solicitors Players’ Player of the Year – Jack Aldous
The fact ‘Mr Duracell’ has hardly missed a game in his whole time at York tells only half the story, as the length of time he does on the pitch week in week out, for a front-rower, is pretty phenomenal at this level.
Consider, too, that he is largely error-free despite so much energy-sapping work in the middle, and you’ve got some team player. Then consider his size – relatively small for a prop – and the fact he still finds a way to rack up the yardage through bigger men and generally outplay them.
He was a clear winner in the players’ poll, which tells its own story.
Said Thornton: “That work-rate, his tackling, the fact he’s largely error free, everything he does – it’s phenomenal at times.
“The players know what it’s like to play alongside Jack.”
James Burrell Builders Merchants Most Outstanding Moment of the Season – Colton Roche (away to Hunslet)
This new award, according to the club, is for a “defining moment that makes the difference between success and failure”. That moment may yet be to come in the play-offs, but, when it comes to the regular season, Roche’s effort is the obvious, memorable, momentous candidate.
The Knights were trailing arch-rivals Hunslet 18-8 late on, knowing defeat would have opened the door for the Hawks or Oldham to finish above them.
Then Greg Minikin set up James Saltonstall to claw back the gap, and then this happened.
With time ebbing away, prop Roche ran onto ball, stormed through the home defence and crashed over the line, with James Haynes adding the match-winning goal that all but confirmed York as table-toppers heading into the play-offs.
Said Thornton: “Another candidate was Kriss Brining, when he chased back to make a vital try-saving tackle at Gloucestershire, but, given the importance and relevance of Colton’s try, it had to be this.
“It was Try of the Week in the trade papers and it was a terrific effort. Add to that the context of the try – it won us the league against our arch-rivals.”
Clubperson of the Year – Will Leatt
He does his stuff behind the scenes, with neither fanfare nor fuss.
Will Leatt, who’s played for New Earswick and is taking his own steps in coaching, is Knights through and through. And to that end, he attends all training sessions and matches, both first grade and previously the reserves, as part of the backroom team to do what he can to assist players and coaching staff alike.
He does it all to a high standard – and voluntarily too.
Said Thornton: “Clubs like ours rely on voluntary work of good people, and Will epitomises that.
“He comes to every session and match-day to help out. He gets equipment sorted, does stats – he does pretty much anything you ask, helping wherever he can. He never moans and is always positive – the kind of person you want around the place.
“He’s trying to develop as a coach so I hope we’re helping him too, because what he does for us is brilliant.”