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Incoming York City Knights boss Gary Thornton has ‘unfinished business’ to tackle
GARY THORNTON says he has “unfinished business” in Championship rugby league as he looks to turn York City Knights into a force to be reckoned with.
As revealed by the Press yesterday, Thornton is to replace Chris Thorman at the Knights helm on November 1, once the player-coach takes up his new post as an assistant-coach at Huddersfield.
And the 50-year-old told The Press a wish to prove himself after the “lowest point in my career” will drive his ambitions to turn the Huntington Stadium outfit into a side capable of competing in the upper echelons of domestic rugby league’s second tier.
Thornton’s previous senior head coach role was at Batley but, after helping the club to punch above their financial weight, winning the Coach of the Year award in 2006 and becoming the then longest-serving boss at this level, he quit Mount Pleasant in 2009. He is currently in his third year as Castleford Tigers Under-20s chief.
He said of his Batley departure: “We had a bad start to the season with a lot of injuries. I lost both my half-backs and we struggled to get cover. We were heavily beaten at Halifax and Toulouse over Easter and I just thought I’d taken the club as far as I could. The chairman said he was prepared to give me a couple of weeks but I thought it was time to step aside.
“It was the lowest point in my career. I would’ve liked to have left on a higher note. But that’s one reason why I’m delighted to be back as a head coach at this level and at York, as there’s unfinished business as far as I’m concerned.”
He will take over a side who have so far struggled in the Championship this term, with one win in 12 league matches, and with six games to go.
“There is no relegation, however, due to a league restructuring.
“I want to improve York,” he said. “It’s been a very tough season for them. It was a hard time at the end of last year. It was tough to recruit because they weren’t sure what division they would be in. By the time they knew, a lot of players they would have targeted had signed elsewhere.
“My main objective is to improve the team. I want to build a good, strong squad of honest people, honest players who can compete with the top five or six teams in the Championship.
“I’m not one for setting long-term goals and targets at this stage as you do that week by week.
“I want to win every game we go into and that’s the approach I will be taking.
“I will say it’s important to make your home ground a fortress. That’s really important. It sets a marker down for every other team in the division.”
Thornton was a decent footballer as a youngster and played at Northern Counties East League level before switching to the oval ball game.
A latecomer to rugby, he signed for Wakefield aged 24 and moved to Batley two years later, going on to score 79 tries in 220 appearances, mainly on the wing, before retiring in 1997, aged 35, with a shoulder injury.
He did some academy coaching at Mount Pleasant and guided his home-town amateur team Drighlington to promotion and cup success in the Yorkshire League before being asked to become Paul Storey’s assistant back at Batley in 2001.
He took over the reins at the end of 2003 and kept them up in the Championship/National League One in each of his five full seasons in charge, despite regularly being tipped for relegation.
Highlights included reaching the Northern Rail Cup last four in 2008 and the play-off semi-finals two years earlier.
“It was a tough competition because there were a few full-time teams in those days, with promotion and relegation (from Super League) still around,” said Thornton.
“Teams like Castleford, Hull KR, Salford, Widnes – they had a full-time budgets vying for promotion.
“Their playing budgets were far higher than at Batley. I’m proud of what I achieved there. The pinnacle was in 2006 when we were one game away from the play-off final and to do that at that time was a fantastic effort and achievement.”