JAMES FORD says it doesn't matter if York City Knights' Boxing Day clash with Bradford Bulls is being dubbed the "Grand Final that never happened" - as his team will forever be 2018 League One champions.

York's opening friendly for next season takes place over the festive period at Odsal - the venue of the Knights' greatest victory of their stunning title-winning campaign.

Tries by Judah Mazive (2), Josh Johnson, Ben Cockayne and Joe Batchelor saw Ford's troops shock Bradford 30-28 to avenge a two-point loss on the opening day at Bootham Crescent and, amid a remarkable 15-game winning run, set up their thrilling title triumph.

The Bulls, the odds-on favourites, nevertheless followed York to promotion to the Championship via the play-offs and are now suggesting the Boxing Day meeting is effectively a decider between the runaway top two in this year's third tier.

But Ford - while admitting this is "not an average warm-up game" - said: "I'm not quite sure where they're going with that.

"We're the champions of 2018, regardless of what happens between now and the end of time.

"We won't shy away from the challenge though. We're looking forward to facing Bradford. They're a massive club with a great team and a great coach. We want to test ourselves against them."

He added: "It's not an average warm-up game. There's a positive rivalry between the teams and the clubs and it's based around respect.

"We respect Bradford as a club and we respect their coaching staff immensely. That means we want to be beat them. It means something to us to beat Bradford, and it means something to Bradford beating York.

"Whatever angle the marketing teams want to come up with is fine. It won't change my philosophy or mentality. We're going there to win."

Ford got one over on Bradford's veteran boss John Kear in that previous Odsal meeting and again in lifting the title. He also beat the former England and Challenge Cup-winning mastermind to the League One Coach of the Year award.

He was now relishing renewing their battle on Boxing Day and next season, saying: "If I saw John in the supermarket, I'd want to beat him to the tills. That indicates the respect I've got for him and for Bradford.

"Whether it's a friendly, a league game or a Grand Final, we want to win."

Asked if there was anything riding on this friendly other than pride, Ford said: "There's plenty riding on it.

"We want to go into the New Year period feeling good about ourselves and enjoying the fact we've beaten a very good side. Or we can go into it being a bit cheesed off with ourselves because we've not performed to our levels and we've been beaten.

"We will be working hard to make sure we come away from that game with a feeling we've won."

Asked what he would be looking for in the game, he added: "There are certain standards that are non-negotiable and I expect to see them in abundance.

"I expect my players to work very hard and show an immense amount of togetherness and resilience, and we will also try to showcase our brand of rugby league. December or July, we'll go there and try to hit those standards."

Ford, meanwhile, is happy with the Knights' pre-season so far as they enter their fourth week.

"Things are going well in training and we've met our objectives every session," he explained.

"We've got plenty of aspects to cover and we're going to increase the intensity as we come closer to the season. We're in a good place at the minute."

Asked about the results of testing and the players' physical levels, Ford said: "There's lots to be impressed about. I'm happy with everyone's efforts."

Judah Mazive suffered concussion in training but will be okay come Boxing Day.

As things stand, the only player who is not in contention to feature at Bradford is second-row Sam Scott, who has been having rehab on a groin injury carried over from last term.