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Tigers starlet Ben Johnson tipped for big Knights impact
CHRIS THORMAN has refuted suggestions that York City Knights are banking on Ben Johnson being their season’s saviour – but he is hoping the teenager can have a major impact.
The 19-year-old scrum-half has finally arrived from Castleford on dual-registration and – while he was only set to train with the team for the first time last night – he is in line to be thrown straight in at the deep end for Sunday’s high noon Championship clash away to Swinton.
The club are praying he can solve the half-back problems that have dogged the team all year, but player-boss Thorman, while excited by the former York Acorn ARLC junior’s potential, was wary of pinning too much on his young shoulders.
“I don’t want to put pressure on him and I’m not going to,” said Thorman.
“He’s a young kid and he’ll be new to Championship level and he’s going to find it tough immediately.
“He’ll have to man-up, which is what Cas want him to do – they want to give him the opportunity to play open-age rugby.
“It’s about making the transition from under-20s to the Championship and the physicality and pace at this level, and the quicker he gets used to it the better.”
Johnson, a former North Yorkshire Service Area starlet before moving to the Castleford area in his teens, signed full-time with the Tigers in October, after being voted their U20s players’ player of the year.
The Press understands the Wheldon Road club had initially planned to loan him out in 2013 with a view to building him up for Super League action down the line.
But his quick progress, including some startling performances for the reserves in recent weeks, plus impressive sessions alongside first-teamers in training, means they feel he is ready for this next step.
It has not been a smooth transition to York, though, as the dual-reg move was delayed due to injuries and suspensions in the Tigers’ first-team ranks.
He has suffered a couple of knocks in his last two man-of-the-match outings for Cas U20s, including concussion in the weekend’s defeat at Salford, in which he scored two solo tries.
That left Johnson needing to pass a ‘head test’ yesterday before being able to train at Huntington Stadium for the first time.
Despite failing his first ‘head test’, Tigers officials reported that he was only showing “slight” effects of concussion and were confident he would pass a second test today.
Those worries aside, Thorman was encouraged by his blistering recent form, and, though Johnson is small in frame, he did not think size would be an issue if he had skill, bravery and footwork.
“There aren’t many monster half-backs about,” he said. “It’s good he’s playing well.
“This is a stepping stone, a couple of rungs up the ladder. I’m sure he’s very excited about playing in the Championship.”
Johnson’s arrival means Brett Turner, recently used at scrum-half, is likely to revert to a hooking role, probably off the bench, on Sunday.
He was given the number nine shirt in last night’s reserves match against Featherstone to get more match practice at dummy-half.
Thorman, while praising the former West Hull amateur’s efforts at half-back, said: “It’s a position we need to get a little bit more from.
“Brett’s done his best but I think his best position is hooker.
“He’s asked to play at hooker but has been putting the team first.
“It will also be nice to freshen up Jack Lee (regular hooker) as well and not expect him to play as many minutes as he has done.”
• Don’t miss The Press tomorrow for a full preview of the Knights’ trip to Swinton.
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