THE great strides being made by York City Knights off the field could not have been summed up much better than they have been this week.

First of all, on Tuesday we learnt that the Knights were in a position to sponsor a trophy at the forthcoming York International 9s Festival, something which not only raises the profile of the club in the city and in the expanding rugby league world but also makes a statement about their status as a club to be respected.

Two days later we had the significant news that the Knights were planning to start an Academy for next season.

Then yesterday we were able to reveal that the club had drawn up an excellent shirtsleeve sponsorship deal with big York-based company Arriva Trains Northern.

And on this page today we highlight the progress being made in primary schools, whereby the new rugby league development scheme - which is run by the Knights in conjunction with City of York Council - staged its first mini-tournament this week.

The Arriva sponsorship deal not only brings in yet more cash to the club, which can only make it stronger on all fronts, but it also further enhances the ever-growing credibility of the club, not just in the eyes of the fans but also in the eyes of the city's business community.

The other two tales, meanwhile, highlight the fact that the club is here for the long-term and, significantly, is planning for success in the long-term.

There is a lot of young rugby league talent in and around York and the Academy - should it prove viable as is hoped - would not only add to this but also give the local players another credible stairway to stardom.

The Knights have promised to work with the amateur clubs in the area so hopefully the links being fostered will mean there would not be a conflict of interest when it comes to young players leaving those outfits to join that Academy. Either way, it means there would be bigger scope for players to improve and progress, which can only be a good thing for all concerned.

Connected to this, the Knights' pledge to help not only themselves but also the game as a whole has been proved by the schools RL development scheme they have helped to put in place via the Guildford Construction sponsorship and the Sportsmatch funding.

The more schools involved and the more youngsters therefore taking up the game means that more players - and more players of a higher quality - will be coming through the system, and that system will involve amateur clubs as well as schools and the Knights themselves.

It also means more youngsters will develop an interest in the sport and this in turn, like the various sponsorship deals, gets the Knights further into the psyche of the city as a whole.

As said, these strides are mainly behind the scenes, but in terms of the long-term viability of the club they are no less significant than the strides being made on the pitch.

Of course, what we need now to cap off a great week is a victory on the field at Hunslet tomorrow, which would complete another notable first for the Knights - their first-ever hat-trick of consecutive wins - and put them right in the play-off picture.

Either way, it's hard to believe the Knights are still a fledgling club.

Updated: 10:31 Saturday, June 14, 2003