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York City Knights strengthen their ranks with new Hull partnership
THE mooted link-up between York City Knights and Hull FC has been given the official go-ahead – with new Knights boss Gary Thornton insisting it must be used to the Championship club’s benefit.
The partnership – said to be a new, improved version of the arrangement the Knights had with Leeds five years ago, and an extension of the Rugby Football League’s current dual-registration system – has been announced in a joint-statement by the clubs, and means several Hull players will be dual-registered at Huntington Stadium or assigned long loans.
Behind the scenes, Hull will also share best practice on a range of strategies such as media and marketing, strength and conditioning, and coaching development.
However, rumours the arrangement – one of several between Championship and Super League outfits – would mean the Knights become a so-called feeder club to the Super League giants have been rubbished. Thornton also believes the new agreement will counter various problems experienced with the dual-reg system where players were called back to their parent club, sometimes at short notice.
“We’ve got to make sure it’s right for us,” he said.
“We’re definitely not going to be a Hull reserves side. We’ve got our own identity in our own right, and we will make it work in our best interests, in both clubs’ best interests. We’ve got to make sure it benefits York City Knights.”
One key difference regarding dual-reg comes from the fact reserve-grade games at Super League level will drop from under-20s to U19s next year, meaning more players deemed to have Super League futures but without yet having regular first-team opportunities will be freed up to play Championship rugby, with supposedly less chance of being called back by parent clubs to their fill first-team or U20s berths.
Another difference is that this time a host of Hull’s players can be registered with York – although the only ones likely to venture to Huntington Stadium are those on or outside the fringes of the Airlie Birds’ first team rather than star names in need of a run-out, for example after injury.
The RFL’s board of directors have recently approved a proposal to amend the dual-reg system and encourage such partnerships, in changes partly stimulated by the switch from U20s to U19s reserve-grade.
Other proposed partnerships link Wakefield with Doncaster, Hull KR with Batley, Bradford with Dewsbury, Warrington with Swinton, Wigan with Leigh, and Leeds with Hunslet, while St Helens have announced an arrangement with Rochdale in which Saints’ U20s coach Ian Talbot will take charge of Dale’s team.
Under the new rules, up to five borrowed Super League players will be permitted to play for a Championships team.
They can be either dual-reg players from a partner club or loanees from elsewhere, with teams allowed four loanees in total, three from any one club.
York have insisted there will be no coaching directive from Hull as part of their agreement, or that Hull can stipulate which of their players get a run-out with the Knights. Hull boss Peter Gentle will decide who is available, but Thornton will have the final say on who plays.
The Knights have also stressed they plan to maintain their own squad and use this system only to “top up” their team when necessary.
Hull director of rugby Shaun McRae said: “We’re delighted to secure this partnership and we look forward to working with Gary Thornton, his staff and players.
“Linking up with York was a natural step given the strong relations between the two clubs and I’m sure both parties will soon see the benefits.
“With the proposed changes to the academy structure, this will provide a great opportunity for some of our younger players to develop in a more competitive environment with a club that boasts one of the strongest traditions in the game.”
The Press understands the Knights went through the small print of the three-year contract – with both clubs needing one season’s notice to terminate – in detail to ensure it would pay dividends at Huntington Stadium.
Knights general manager Ian Wilson said: “We already have strong links with the Hull area in terms of our playing roster and we believe the partnership will only enhance this.
“It is important to reiterate the partnership goes way beyond player movement and has been carefully structured to include support around many other areas including coach development, medical support, performance analysis, commercial and hospitality, and community work.”
A pre-season friendly between the clubs has already been announced, while the partnership also features Knights sponsorship from Hull.
Wilson added: “Utilising resources Hull have available will be extremely beneficial.”