YORK City Knights would have found it difficult to hand-pick a trickier start to the 2021 season, on paper at least.

In taking on the bookies’ favourites to win the Betfred Championship, Toulouse Olympique, this could well prove to be the hardest of the lot, having faced 1895 Cup holders Sheffield Eagles and full-time promotion contenders London Broncos in the opening two rounds of the Betfred Challenge Cup.

This year, Toulouse are looking as strong as ever and have added several Betfred Super League players to their squad.

There are plenty of new faces in the forward pack after the arrivals of Mitch Garbutt from Hull KR, Remi Casty from Catalans Dragons and Joseph Paulo and Dominique Peyroux, both from champions St Helens.

Back-rower Andrew Dixon also comes in after Toronto Wolfpack were disbanded last year while Eloi Pelissier has been signed from fellow promotion rivals London Broncos.

Toulouse had also brought in a new half-back, in former Castleford Tigers, Wakefield Trinity and York City Knights star Ben Reynolds from Leigh Centurions on a two-year deal.

However, early this week, Reynolds returned to Leigh before making a competitive appearance for Toulouse, with the Super League side bringing back their former scrum-half having suffered a number of injuries in the halves.

Reynolds - who played 16 times for York in the 2014 season, scoring seven tries and 67 goals - looked set to partner long-term stand-off Johnathon Ford in the halves for Toulouse this year after being given the number seven jersey.

His absence may hand an opportunity to fringe half-back, Spain international and former Hunslet RLFC talent Romain Pallares.

There are other options available to coach Sylvain Houles though, with Mark Kheirallah, Anthony Marion and Paulo capable of deputising there.

As well as a number of high-profile additions, there has also been a host of out-goings at Olympique, with half-backs Stanislas Robin and William Barthau among those departures.

Robin has joined second-row Constantine Mika in joining Elite One Championship side Villeneuve Leopards while French international wing Tony Maurel has moved to Limoux Grizzlies of the same division.

Forwards James Bell and Ben Evans have signed for Leigh and Bradford Bulls respectively while fellow pack members Clement Boyer, Paterika Vaivai and Frank Winterstein have been released.

Barthau has retired from rugby league at the age of 31.

While Toulouse boast an array of top talent, York may take some comfort for the fact that they have not played a competitive yet this year, unlike their fellow Championship rivals.

The French side opted not to compete in the Challenge Cup this year, while York have come through two tough physical matches at Sheffield and London.

Toulouse did though face Catalans in a pre-season friendly earlier this month, eventually losing out 40-28 at the Stade Gilbert Brutus, having led 24-10 at half-time.

Toulouse Olympique squad: Kheirallah, Vaivai, Jussaume, Ford, Casty, White, Hansen, Dixon, Peyroux, Marion, Pelissier, Puech, Bretherton, Paulo, Garbutt Bergal, Schaumkel, Sangare, Armitage, Pallares, Garcia.