PROGRESS remains the watchword at Heworth ARLC as they look forward to building on a fantastic season back in the National Conference League.

Playing in the third division of the country's elite amateur rugby league competition - which they dropped out of in 2015 - the Villagers fell just short of a fairytale ending when they lost their play-off final to Dewsbury Celtic.

But missing out on immediate promotion to division two has not dampened the spirits of coach Scott Rhodes, who is eager to highlight the positives on show from the campaign - and insists Heworth will be looking to go "one better" in 2020.

"Obviously we were disappointed in the result," he said of the final. "But overall, as a club, I thought on and off the field, it was a fantastic season for us.

"When you look at the full picture, we fulfilled all of our fixtures for the first and second team, which we haven't done for a while.

"The under-18s are doing well and we've got a new group of under-sevens.

"It's been a great season when you look at it like that. We're still building - it's only my second year.

"The highlight for me was probably getting two open-age sides out, week in, week out. That hasn't been done for a lot of years.

"Personally, I think we're on the right track. We weren't expected to do great this year. A lot of players in our team had never played in the NCL before.

"It was a tough, long season - 28 games, with games in Cumbria and Lancashire. We started at the beginning of January and ended on the fifth of October. That's 10 solid months of rugby league.

"It was a long season but one we'll take a lot out of."

The Black and Whites have a lot to celebrate from their 2019 return to the NCL, finishing third with the second-highest points-scored tally of the four divisions across the league. George Elliott - one of Rhodes' stand-out players for the season, alongside club award-winners Gareth Watson and Liam Watling - was the league's second-highest try-scorer with 23.

Elliott crossed for the first score of Heworth's 30-16 play-off final defeat to Dewsbury, then converted James Morland's try for a 10-0 lead. Dewsbury got back in it before half-time, then pulled well away with four-try salvo at the start of the second half.

Rhodes said: "We started really well, but credit has to go to Dewsbury Celtic. They didn't panic with the ball, they stuck to their game plan and their structures and we couldn't keep up with them. They were a little bit too strong in the middle areas.

"But it is what it is.

"We'll have a little bit of recruitment. We'll be itching to get back out there and go one better. Obviously we'll try and win it.

"We struggled at the start of the season last year. We had players with other commitments and took a couple of injuries early on, which didn't help us.

"I think next year could be a really good year for us.

"Player-wise, we've got some really good players.

"We'll try to get a few new faces in and push the players already here.

"Hopefully we'll be in the Challenge Cup and have a good run. We haven't been in it for a good few years.

"I'm looking for a big response from the players - we know what they're about and they know what they're up against."

Rhodes is planning to get the black and whites into strength and conditioning training at the start of next month then break for Christmas.

This should be helped by a new gym currently being built on-site at Elmpark Way as part of further upgrades.

"The facilities at Heworth are second to none," Rhodes said. "They're absolutely fantastic.

"The Committee has done a fantastic job pushing the club forward. It makes my job easier.

"It's important that we start that bit earlier," he added. "We didn't gauge it right - that's probably my fault.

"We'll get them in and get them strong and ready to go."

At the NCL awards dinner, Heworth won the Fair Play award for the fewest disciplinary points accrued throughout the season.

Elsewhere, York Acorn half-back Antony Chilton was pipped to winning the division one Player of the Year at their recent awards night.

Jamie Smith of Pilkington Recs, who won the title ahead of second-placed Acorn, took home the award for the division’s best player.

Dewsbury Moor’s Archie Bruce, who died aged 20 after making his professional debut for Batley back in August, was also nominated at the presentation night.