YORK City Knights head coach James Ford believes that Sheffield Eagles will be strong contenders in the Beftred Championship in 2021 as the two sides prepare to face off for the second time this year.

York return to league action on Sunday (7.30pm) at the LNER Community Stadium, having beaten Sheffield in the Betfred Challenge Cup 30-6 last month.

Since that meeting at the Keepmoat Stadium, the Eagles have thrashed fellow play-off hopefuls Bradford Bulls 50-12 - the biggest win of the Championship first round.

And Sheffield will be eager to avenge their cup exit to the Knights by taking league points from them this weekend.

“They’re a good side,” said Ford. “They’ve gone under the radar a little bit.

“When you look at some of the other clubs’ recruitment, there’s been some really high-profile players dropping in, but you haven’t heard that much about Sheffield, they’ve gone about their business quietly.

“We’re talking about a side that just missed out on the play-offs in 2019 and had two of their better players missing in (James) Glover and (Matty) James.

“They’re a real contender and I think they showed that against Bradford, because there’s not many sides that do that against Bradford Bulls.

“They’re not going to fly under the radar any more after that performance, that’s for sure.”

Asked about Sheffield’s opening round display against the Bulls, Ford replied: “We’ll have to be good because they absolutely peppered Bradford.

“I thought Sheffield’s back three were outstanding, (Rob) Worrincy, Glover and (Ryan) Millar really tested Bradford on kick returns and 20-metre restarts.

“After any Bradford error, they were really quick to react and attack. Glover in the centres has got real speed and he can cause you an awful lot of problems.

“I thought he had a really good game. We’ll have to be defensively good on our kick chase and reacting to errors and quick restarts.

"Our transitions will need to be right up there.”

The Knights are also well aware of the danger posed by veteran half-back Anthony Thackeray.

The 35-year-old, who had a spell on loan at York back in 2011, is the main playmaker at Sheffield with bags of experience from previous spells at Featherstone Rovers, Dewsbury Rams and Halifax.

“Obviously, Anthony Thackeray carries an awful lot of threat, again with his speed and his combination with Oliver Davies is really strong,” said Ford.

“We’re expecting a lot of ball movement to come through him. And it’s easier said than done, but no dummies.

“One of his best plays is his show-and-go and probably every coach coming up against him every week will say ‘No dummies on Thackeray’ but he’s still a top, top player, so we’ll need to be good against him, that’s for sure.”

On his own squad, Ford was happy with the progress shown in last week’s 26-0 defeat to Betfred Super League giants Wigan Warriors in the cup after an error-strewn performance against Toulouse Olympique previously.

“We learned a fair bit," he said of the Wigan game. "There were some new combinations out there and the young boys making their debuts and I saw a lot of promise in those young guys (Myles Harrison and AJ Towse).

“There’s still a fair way to go in terms being able to play week in, week out at this level but they’re certainly on the right trajectory.

“The team showed an awful lot of togetherness and fight. More importantly, we took a step forward in possession.

“We were much closer to our game plan and the closest we’ve been to our game model this season in terms of shape and how we move the ball.

“But, we still didn’t quite get to the levels that we want to be at so we’ll learn some lessons from it, try and fine-tune things in our practice and hopefully take another step forward at the weekend.”