BOUNCING straight back up is the aim for York Acorn ARLC – and they kick off their bid with a game that could test their promotion credentials.
The Blue and Golds were relegated from the National Conference premier division last year but the last time such fate befell them, they quickly returned to amateur rugby league’s elite, and boss Scott Rhodes insists that has to be their target again.
Their season starts on Saturday at home to Normanton, one of the favourites for the title.
Said Rhodes: “Going into any season you’re looking to do the best you can and the best we can do is go straight back up. We’ve got a talented squad but we’ve just got to get our best team out each week, which we sometimes struggled to do last year.”
When they did it, Acorn often proved more than competitive – although improving away form is a must.
Said Rhodes: “We got relegated but we did reasonably well at home, all things considered, and we can take a lot of positives from that, especially given we had a young squad.
“We did well at home and beat a lot of the top teams. Our away form, though, was terrible and because of that we didn’t deserve to stay up.
“We bounced straight back up last time, though, and that’s our target.
“Make no mistake, this is a tough league to get out of. Going to places like Normanton, Dewsbury Celtic – they’re tough places to get a result. But we’ll give it our best.”
As for Saturday’s opponents, Rhodes added: “I think they’re the team to beat in the competition with the ex-pros they’ve got. Dewsbury Celtic are looking strong and Myton are always a good team. Then there’s Ince Rose Bridge. There won’t be any easy games this year, but I’d like to think we’d be up there.”
Acorn lost 24-6 to premier division side Skirlaugh in a friendly, to follow on from a hammering their lads took in the York Select’s game against York City Knights.
Rhodes admitted that result knocked confidence but he added: “Competition starts now and we’re looking at putting things right and the lads are really looking forward to it all.”
Among those lads are newcomers Jordan Myers and Jack Baynes, local lads who have joined from Featherstone’s youth set-up, York RUFC winger Gareth Singleton, who scored twice in an ‘A’ team run-out, and former Knights hopefuls Ollie Wilcox-Harrison and the veteran Andy Gargan.
“They’re good players and Andy brings much-needed experience in all the pivotal roles,” added Rhodes.
Heworth kick off their division three campaign also with promotion in mind, despite their lowly finish last season.
This year, the top two go up from this tier, with the next four playing off for a third promotion spot.
Boss Tim Rumford said: “Getting in the top six is the first thing. We finished a few places off where we wanted to be last year but we’re looking to grow. We’ve got more players and have promoted a number of good under-18s, which is a must for any amateur club.”
Also now in the ranks is former Leeds, Knights and Doncaster loose-forward Danny Allan, as previously reported.
Jason Harper will add size in the pack and Josh Poulter is back after time in the Knights U20s, while Rumford has high hopes of 17-year-old forward Connor Paige.
Pilkington Recs and Kells, promoted last season, have beaten premier division sides during recent Challenge Cup runs and Rumford believes this shows the strength of this division.
The likes of Blackbrook remain, while Featherstone Lions will be looking for big improvements with former Super League half-back Jamie Rooney now at the helm.
But Rumford added: “We’re looking to double the number of wins we got last season and if we do we’ll be there or thereabouts. We’ve had a couple of defeats in pre-season (to Lock Lane and Gateshead Storm) but it was about getting game-time and we’re ready to kick on.”
The Villagers have, on paper, an easy start against Peterlee, but Rumford warned: “They’ll look at our position last year and will be targeting us as a team to beat. That alone brings it’s own challenges.”
• New Earswick, entering their winter season run-in, have a week off in the Pennine League championship.
It’s probably come at a good time after player-boss Jack Stearman (suspected broken nose), Tom Holmes (suspected broken cheekbone) and Jamie Norris (broken collarbone) suffered injury in their defeat to Methley last week. Ash Martin (hamstring) and Adam Kirby (illness) also need extra time.
Selby Warriors, whose relegation from division one was confirmed by their hammering at Brotherton last week, also have no game, but their ‘A’ team host Queensbury ‘B’ in division seven.