“WE couldn’t have done a great deal better, could we?”

So said secretary Ken Sykes of Heworth ARLC’s impressive Yorkshire Men’s League division one-winning campaign - the success of which has seen the fallen giants of amateur rugby league apply to rejoin the flagship National Conference League.

The Villagers comfortably topped the YML division one table with 33 points from a possible 36, a full seven points ahead of runners-up Cutsyke Raiders, whom Heworth also beat in the Grand Final at Featherstone Rovers’ ground.

Off the field, Sykes confirmed the club have now officially applied to rejoin the elite amateur competition, and are “optimistic” will be accepted, given the health of their facilities and junior section.

Heworth’s table-topping first-team squad had an average age of 24, with 14 of those players coming into the side from the juniors. Over the next 10 years, the club expect around 225 youngsters to come through the ranks while they have a new under-18s academy starting in January.

Reflecting on the campaign, Sykes said: “We couldn’t have done a great deal better, could we?

“We’ve been competitive every game of the season. We’ve won some big ones, and the one that counted, against Cutsyke. That was a tough game but we played pretty well and won 30-16.

“It all started when we appointed Scott Rhodes to take over from player-coach George Elliot. He had more time than George, who was also finishing his studies and looking for employment.

“I’ve no doubt Scott has made the difference – he’s organised us and put structures in place.

“I think he’s enjoyed himself. I know he’s coached at York Acorn in the NCL, but he’s an ex-Heworth junior player so we claim him as one of our own, and it seemed a fairly natural thing for him to help us and hopefully get us back where we belong.”

The club was one of the 10 founder members of the NCL (then the National League) in 1986, finishing as champions of the inaugural 1986/87 season.

However, in March 2015, after a few seasons in the doldrums, the prestigious club took the decision to resign from the competition because they did not feel the team was strong enough to compete.

The plan was to regroup in the Yorkshire Men's League.

Sykes views a fertile youth set-up as fundamental to future NCL success.

The former player said: “If we’re going to move up then we’ll need the back-up of the second team – it’s inevitable that we’ll need them and they’re an important part of it.

“If we can keep the flow of teams going then it’s extremely healthy. It has, over the years, been difficult trying to transition players from 14, 15 to 18, 19 through the teams.

“All clubs experience a drop-out, which is not healthy because you need the players coming through playing in the first team. That’s always been the case.

“Nothing has changed from that point of view, but we have plugged that gap now and we are looking forward with some form of confidence.”

Of the club’s chances of having the bid accepted, Sykes said: “We’re optimistic.

“When we came out of the NCL at the beginning of the 2015 season it was a lack of numbers in the open-age set-up, nothing to do with facilities or the junior set-up. Everything was in place apart from the young, inexperienced side we had.

“We still think it was the right decision to take. We’ve now been out for three seasons and we always hoped to go back at the time we felt we were good enough to do that, and we feel we are now.

“It’ll be a difficult challenge, and we don’t know about the standard particularly, but we know there’ll be a lot of travelling to do – more than we have now.

“But if we’re going to go into it, we’re going to into it in a positive and confident way. There’s no point going in not being competitive. I think we will go in competitive, though, I have no doubts about that.”

Meanwhile, at the club’s presentation evening, former Leeds Rhinos and York City Knights threequarter Elliot, now focusing on playing only, was recognised as the first team’s top try (18) and points scorer (120) while Joe Deighton was the top goal scorer.

David Hayes was the Coaches’ Player of the Year, Josh Poulter the Players’ Player and Cameron Taylor the Young Player.

For the ‘A’ team, Lewis Hartley picked up Coaches’ Player and Players’ Player awards while George Wallace was named Young Player of the Year.