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York City Knights announce Simon Brown and Jonny Presley signings
TWO of the worst-kept secrets in the Co-operative Championship are officially out at last with York City Knights announcing the captures of Sheffield half-back Simon Brown and the returning Jonny Presley.
And they are unlikely to be the only playmakers coming to Huntington Stadium in 2013.
It’s been widely known that Brown, the Eagles’ top points-scorer, was to join the Huntington Stadium revolution under new head coach Gary Thornton, but the Knights had been waiting until the Eagles were knocked out of the play-offs before announcing the signing.
However, Sheffield’s win over Leigh on Thursday propelled them into a second successive grand final and the Knights could wait no longer to confirm the goalkicking star’s move from South to North Yorkshire – effectively as the on-field replacement for departing player-boss Chris Thorman, who is hanging up his boots to join Huddersfield as assistant-coach.
Additionally, the Knights are bringing diminutive former Featherstone and Keighley scrum-half-cum-hooker Presley back to Huntington Stadium following his year in Australia. He was a virtual ever-present for York in 2011.
There are also unconfirmed rumours of a long-loan move for Castleford starlet Ben Johnston to add extra zip to the playmaking positions, while the proposed link-up with Hull could add further ball-playing talent to the ranks.
Johnston and Hull’s Danny Nicklas both had brief stints at York last season and might yet be seen again in a Knights shirt.
Brown was omitted from the Sheffield line-up after his planned move to York was made known a month ago, but on his reinstatement he has starred in the Eagles’ march through the play-offs.
Said Thornton of the 23-year-old: “My main priority was getting half-backs in place, especially after the loss of Chris Thorman. The biggest priority was getting the spine right and that includes the pivots.
“I’m happy with Jack Lee at hooker – he does a good job – and Simon Brown is a good replacement for Chris.
“He has a fantastic kicking game – he can get you out of trouble just with his kicking. He knows the league and the players and what to do to get teams around the park, and he’s been at a good club.
“There aren’t many experienced half-backs around and we had to move quickly. He was looking for a new challenge and we worked fairly quickly to get that sealed. In my opinion it’s a great signing for us.
“It’s also important to get experienced Championship players who have seen and done it at that level. There’s a good core of young players at the Knights but you can’t really play six, seven, eight of them in one go. You need to help them progress by filling the team with experienced players.”
Presley, 28, who scored a Knights best of six tries in a game in the record Challenge Cup win over Northumbria University 18 months ago, has been playing for Fremantle Roosters this year, winning a call-up to a Western Australia representative side and helping his club to third place in the WARL Premiership ladder. He is now back in Blighty.
Thornton said: “He’s been getting some rave reviews in Australia. We were the first club he contacted as regards his return and we’re delighted to get him on board.
“He’s a threat with the ball, he’s got an ‘X’ factor. He’s got great footwork with pace and is difficult to defend against.
“Simon Brown is more of an organiser and kicker and will guide us around the park. It’s good to have someone with Jonny’s ability alongside that. It’s an interesting combination.”
As for Presley’s perceived defensive fallibilities, generally regarding his size, Thornton added: “Teams always try to target half-backs – it’s part and parcel of the game. We will try to improve his defence and we’ll try to get systems in place to protect him a bit. But we want to develop his strengths as well – and he’s got a lot of them.”
Thornton did not name any other half-back targets but the club confirmed another signing would be announced “over the coming weeks”, and The Press believes Johnston – whom Thornton coached in Castleford’s academy in the past two years – is among the candidates.
The former York Acorn ARLC junior came to York on dual-reg in May but his stay was curtailed after three games due to injury.
The 20-year-old got back in action with Cas’s under-20s reserve-grade but he will be too old for that team next year as Super League reserve set-ups switch from U20s to U19s, and, while Cas do not want to lose him permanently, they could be open to a long loan until they deem him ready for Super League action.
• York Acorn ARLC’s National Conference division one match at Millom today has been postponed due to a waterlogged pitch.