TIM SPEARS reckons the ambition and thirst for improvement at York City Knights bodes well for their bid to "surprise a few people" in the Betfred Championship next year.

Skipper supreme Spears has hailed the spirit in the camp throughout 2018, as well as the make-up of the squad that took them to a startling League One title success.

He also reckons the standards in the top half of the third tier are more than a match for the bottom end of the Championship - all meaning James Ford's troops should relish the challenges ahead.

Referring to the club record 15-match winning run which took them to the crown, the 34-year-old warhorse said: "As this year's progressed (and York went top of the table), we heard all of a sudden that there was a different pressure on us.

"But as a player with ambition you want to play in pressure games at the top of the table and big games against top teams. If you're at the top, you're doing something right.

"Pressure is a good thing - it gets the best out of you.

"There are a lot of winners in this squad and blokes that never give in.

"In training they have high standards and they demand the best of their mates and eke out bits of improvement in each other.

"The coaching staff have provided that ethos - which is (boss) James Ford in a nutshell. It's about trying to improve people.

"You come to training and it's flinging it down yet Connor Robinson is out there an hour early practising his kicking.

"It sums up what a special group of people we've had here. It's about a willingness and a desire to get better individually and collectively.

"It's been week on week, finding marginal gains.

"A good example is after we beat Hunslet at home - the video session lasted at least half an hour.

"Yes we enjoyed the highlights but there were several aspects in which we weren't where we needed to be - even though we won by 40 points.

"You have to credit James Ford for constantly driving standards and not letting anyone rest on their laurels.

"That's the group's ethos as a whole.

"He's done a great job in instilling that and having that culture where people want to grow and get better no matter how old they are.

"Look at Connor Robinson when he first came, or Brad Hey a couple of years ago, or Joe Batchelor. But it's not just the younger lads - it's the same with some of the senior boys, and a desire to get a bit more out of us in terms of extra skills or another string to the bow."

Spears, who is out of contract at Bootham Crescent but in talks over a new deal, has plenty of experience of top-end Championship rugby.

He led Featherstone to four consecutive League Leaders Shields from 2010 to 2013, the Championship Shield in 2015 and a place in the Middle 8s in 2016 prior to his move to York.

But he reckons the Knights have it in them to bridge the gap.

"The top half of League One has gone through the roof," he reasoned.

"Bradford added a lot to the competition but there are lots of good clubs.

"The top end of League One is arguably as good as if not better than the bottom end of the Championship.

"We beat Swinton in the Challenge Cup and there were one or two other similar results.

"If you take our squad and add one or two people to it, with this group and our culture, I see no reason why we can't compete.

"People like Ben Cockayne - they're not the type of people who will go into it just to make up the numbers. They want to be competitive.

"The club is ambitious, the owners are ambitious, there's a great coaching staff, great facilities, great fans. I see no reason why we can't be competitive.

"You play professional sport to challenge yourself and I don't see why you wouldn't - in fact there'd be something wrong if you weren't wanting to do that."

Spears reckoned defensive desire and team spirit was a huge factor in their title triumph - another reason to be positive about next year.

"We back our defence - it's been one of the reasons behind our success this season," he said.

"We scored some nice tries but what people don't always recognise is our defensive effort.

"I think people talked about it a bit more at the back end of the season due to the number of games we came through by a single score - I think it was seven games with us just ending with our nose in front.

"That stuff is not just a coincidence, so fair play to the coaching staff but also to the players for their grit and desire.

"There's great spirit in the squad and that's got us through a fair few games. You think of Oldham away, Doncaster away, Bradford away, Oldham at home, where we've defended for large parts.

"There's the coaching side to that but there's also the togetherness in the group. Even when you're flagging, you don't want to let anyone down.

"It's a pleasure to play in that side, to be honest.

He added of the squad: "I was talking to (assistant-coach) Chris Spurr the other day about blokes who've had really good seasons.

"But if you look at the ingredients that make our team, they all complement each other.

"Somebody like Matty Marsh at full-back or Ash Robson can come up with something out of nothing, or there's Connor Robinson, who can go the length of the field.

"They complement blokes like myself or Sam Scott who do a lot of the tough stuff.

"Graeme Horne's got lots of skill for a forward, then there was Brad Hey or Joe Batchelor with genuine ability and genuine pace.

"I think we all complemented each other and on top of that we work really hard for each other. You don't want to let your team-mate down and that has taken us a long way."

He added: "We've had a good mix of good young lads and good old heads.

"The other thing is there have been no egos. No matter who you are or where you've come from, there's a willingness to get on and work hard for each other, week in week out."