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Knights stars of future open up
JAMES FORD will put York City Knights’ first-team concerns to one side tomorrow night as he takes the club’s new under-18s team into their season opener.
Knights skipper Ford – who led Wakefield College’s rugby league team to the National College’s title last year – doubles up as the U18s coach at Huntington Stadium.
The first team have yet to win in the Co-operative Championship this term but the 29-year-old reckons his young guns – originally selected from two trial sessions attended by more than 40 players in November – have shown enough in pre-season to get straight into the victory groove in their first match, at home to Oldham tomorrow night (kick off 8pm).
The squad, featuring many players from last year’s Knights scholarship, have got together twice a week since January – at York College, Huntington Stadium and Wakefield College, where Ford teaches.
And Ford, who has extolled a professional approach, even at that level, said: “The lads have been excellent in training and myself and all the other coaches are excited to see them in action.
“We have some talented young players at the club and I urge the supporters to come along and see the team in action.”
U18s team manager Jack Stearman was quick to praise the players’ attitude in pre-season, describing the time and effort thay have put in as “tremendous”, with four of the teenagers – Ash Haynes, Alex Hutchinson, Luke Tomlinson and Ash Winstanley – already reaping extra benefits by being selected for the reserves this year, playing alongside Stearman.
He was optimistic others will soon make the step up as they build towards first-team rugby league.
He said: “The U18s is a player development pathway. It’s the start of a long process for them. We aim to make these players the best they can be and offer them opportunities to play at a higher level, in the reserve team and hopefully the first team. It’s been brilliant to see how the lads that have played with me in the reserves have progressed.”
He also praised the coaching team that has been put in place for the U18s, which also includes former Leeds Rhinos academy player Matt Isherwood and North Yorkshire Service Area co-ordinator Nick Settle.
Stearman added: “The coaching staff have brought in the philosophy of a professional training environment, and this is what Fordy wanted.
“He wants the players to succeed and progress into the first team and the only way of doing this is by training like the first team and giving the players the best we can.”
One player – Scott Talbot – has been snapped up by Castleford Tigers’ youth team. Stearman added: “This is disappointing for the club but just shows how the players have progressed in the time they have been here.”
The young Knights have six matches this year, against Championships clubs Oldham, Halifax, Leigh, Oldham, Keighley and Hunslet.
Entry to tomorrow’s game at Huntington Stadium is free for Knights season-ticket holders, or £4 for adults and £1 for under-16s.
The ground can be accessed via Bar 13 through the main reception.