YORK Acorn will face their toughest match of the season when they travel to Lock Lane this weekend, reckons head coach Josh Mortimer.

Acorn return to competitive action for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic struck back in March last year.

Amid the current restrictions, the National Conference League (NCL) have decided upon a regionalised league system, with Acorn in Group G alongside the likes of Beverley, West Hull and Heworth.

First up for York is a cross-league match against Lock Lane on Saturday (2.30pm) in what Mortimer anticipates to be one of the most difficult of all the matches his side will have in 2021.

Lock Lane have numerous former semi-professional players in their ranks.

At half-back, they possess former Halifax Panthers, Dewsbury Rams and Featherstone Rovers talent Morgan Punchard and ex-York City Knights pivot Danny Sowerby.

The Castleford-based club also have hooker Danny Maskill, previously of Bradford Bulls and Featherstone, Craig Savage, an ex-BARLA representative, and Tom Sowerby, a former England Lions under-23s player, all to call upon.

“I know that they’ve got lots of lads coming back from the semi-pro game,” said Acorn boss Mortimer.

“It’s going to be really tough for us and, with the greatest respect to the other teams, that’s probably going to be our hardest game of the year and it’s first up.

“But that’s just something that we’ve got to deal with. It’s going to be a tough test for sure.”

The regionalised league system will see the top two from Group G progress to the knockout phase, which will culminate in a Grand Final.

The system was brought in to ease both the travel costs and the risk to further infection amid the pandemic.

It also brings Acorn a chance to face local rivals Heworth, a rarity given the divisional gap between Premier Division Acorn and Division Three Heworth.

“I’m a fan of the regionalised leagues,” said Mortimer.

“But I do feel sorry for the likes of Heworth really. They’ve been put in a league where they are the only Division Three team. There are two Premier teams, three Division One teams and one Division Two team.

“I did listen to what the RFL said about blooding through youngsters and the unknown factor of not knowing what other teams will be like.

“I think that a regionalised Premier and Division One and then a regionalised Division Two and Three could have been better.

“For more, I like competitive games and the lads enjoying their rugby. I hope that Heworth do well just not when they play us!

“I’ve spoken to Scott (Rhodes, Heworth coach) and they’re targeting the play-offs, so fair play to them.”

Regardless of the format, Mortimer is glad to be able to lead out his side once again.

Having chosen not to take part in friendlies, in favour of competitive in-house matches, this weekend will the first time Acorn have taken to the field since 2020.

“It is great to be back and the boys are chomping at the bit because it did just feel like we were never going to get playing again,” Mortimer said.

“When they told us that we’d be able to start playing again in May, we thought, ‘That’s a bit soon’.

“But come this weekend, we’re back playing and we’re really excited about that.”