JAMES FORD believes that the effort and togetherness of his new-look York City Knights side is "up there with the best I've seen."

York have made a strong start to the 2021 season having progressed to the round of 16 in the Betfred Challenge Cup, where they eventually lost out to Wigan Warriors, and have responded to early Betfred Championship defeats by sealing wins over Swinton Lions and Dewsbury Rams.

The Knights brought in a host of new signings over the off-season, the majority of which were established veterans of Super League and included Adam Cuthbertson, Danny Kirmond and Ryan Atkins.

And it was the latter who Ford reserved particular individual praise for after his tremendous defensive effort laid the platform for the try which sealed the weekend's 30-20 win over Dewsbury.

“I need to talk about Ryan Atkins’ effort at the end," said the York head coach. "Minute 77 and he kick-pressures and travels all the way across the field, doesn’t give up on the play, comes up with a big tackle, wins the ball back for us and we score off the next set and finish the game.

“The effort and the togetherness of this team is growing and it’s up there with the best I’ve seen. The effort in that play alone is sensational because he didn’t have to do that, he’s done that for his team and that’s brilliant.

“Good players put the team first and work hard. Ryan has historically been a world-class try-scorer and he’s hard to handle when he carries the ball. Seeing him do that, everyone has got to do that now haven’t they?”

After that aforementioned defensive effort, Kieran Dixon side-stepped through the Dewsbury defence and set away the supporting Marsh to seal victory.

Ford added: “We’ve got some good players and good players come up with key plays at key times and they did. I think Kieran Dixon has been excellent pretty much every week he has played for us.

“I’m really pleased with what Kieran is doing. We’re grateful to have him and I’m enjoying working with him and looking forward to working with him for the foreseeable future.”

The Knights return to home soil this weekend as they prepare to host Featherstone Rovers on Sunday (7.30pm) at the LNER Community Stadium.

For Ford, one of the biggest questions on selection for the clash against the division leaders is over his half-backs and who drops out for likely return of Brendan O'Hagan.

Full-back Connor Wynne and stand-in half Matty Marsh contributed two assists and two tries respectably against Dewsbury while Riley Dean laid on Atkins' opener.

On Dean's performance, Ford commented: “He is learning. He’s come up with a couple of nice involvements and he’s come with a couple of loose involvements that have let the pressure off Dewsbury and put the pressure on us.

“But he is a 19-year-old half who is learning his trade. He has got a good attitude, his work ethic is tremendous and if he could everything now that I’m trying to get across to him, he would be playing for Warrington. But he will get there.

“With ball in hand and attacking defenders, he’s a threat. The icing on the cake stuff he’s got, we just need to work on the cake mixture.”

Ford also reported that Will Jubb left the field early against the Rams due to concussion while Adam Cuthbertson sustained a knee knock, with both being assessed this week.