JAMES FORD is relishing the challenge of once again beginning the Betfred Championship season against promotion favourites Toulouse Olympique, saying the fixture is his preferred opener.

For the fifth season in a row, York City Knights have been handed a tough start to the league season.

In 2017, the Knights visited eventual League One play-off winners Barrow Raiders and the following year hosted Bradford Bulls, whom they would eventually pip to the title. And, in York’s first game back in the Championship in 2019, they took on big-spending Toronto Wolfpack.

Today Ford’s side again start off against Toulouse, as they did last year, and it is a challenge that the coach is excited by.

“Every season we seem to draw the favourites out of the hat for round one,” he said. “But if I had the choice that’s what I want.

“We want to play Toulouse and we wanted them in round one. We’re really excited by the challenge of facing off against them.

“We wanted them in round one last year and we got them. This time we just need to take that extra step forward.”

Asked about Toulouse’s strengths, Ford replied: “How long have we got?! They’re a little bit different in terms of their willingness to offload and how they react to a little bit of chaos.

“I wouldn’t say they were care-free but they certainly like to promote the ball and they’ve got some really good athletes that, in space, can hurt you.

“(Mark) Kheirallah has shown that against York it seems for an eternity and Junior Vaivai is a big, powerful unit on their left edge.

“They’ve got Johnathan Ford who, again seems to have played against us for so long, but he’s a really good player.

“He’s willing to take on high-risk plays and it can put them under pressure but it can also perhaps win a game.

“I do think they’ve improved this year with their recruitment and they’ve improved their strength in the middle. They’ve got Remi Casty, Mitch Garbutt, (Harrison) Hansen that have come in to really solidify that area.

“We’ll need to be really good and match them physically down the middle.”