SECOND-ROW stalwart Mick Ramsden is set to make a surprise return from long-term injury tonight as boss Mick Cook shuffles his York City Knights pack.

Ramsden, who has been dogged by an ankle problem since pre-season, is likely to start tonight's concluding Northern Rail Cup group fixture at Hunslet Hawks, one of many changes to the team as Cook rests several players ahead of Monday's crucial LHF National League Two opener at home to Swinton.

Hookers Jim Elston and Lee Jackson have the night off, giving Neil Thorman, who shone at number nine for Gateshead last season, a rare start, while props Adam Sullivan and John Smith also sit this one out following their heavy stints against Castleford last week, with Craig Forsyth and fit-again Tom Buckenham returning. Paul Thorman, Jon Liddell and Simon Friend also step aside.

Cook, an advocate of squad rotation, again stressed the importance of keeping his players fresh but maintained he is not fielding an under-strength side with one eye on the Swinton game.

"We've got one eye on looking after the players and we need a 100 per cent fit team for Monday," he said. "We're looking to give some people a break. It gives them a bit of time off and keeps them reasonably fresh.

"You might say it's not the strongest side we could put out but I think it's a strong side and one I would expect to go to Hunslet and win."

Fit-again scrum-half Chris Levy, winger Chris Ross and loose-forward Lee Paterson all return to the line-up, while full-back Matt Blaymire comes back as a substitute, with trialist Lee Lingard keeping the number one shirt.

Nothing of substance rides on tonight's game but Cook insisted there would be no half-hearted measures.

"I would be very disappointed if there were," he said. "I don't think that's the mentality of the players. They get paid to win games and perform well and we're approaching the game to get the two points.

"Hunslet have recruited a few players and have some back from injury and they'll want to finish with a win so it's not going to be easy.

"The game is important for people's performances. Some players have missed games and not had an opportunity and this gives a few players a good chance.

"We're still looking for some spaces to be filled on Monday so it's important our players get the performance right and show up well.

"We also need to win games. We've not had a lot of wins this year in the competition so it's important to finish it with a good performance and two points."

The Knights are booked in for a post-match swim tonight to help them warm down, then they will have a light training session on Sunday morning ahead of Monday's game.

Updated: 09:34 Friday, March 25, 2005