TIM SPEARS has refused to predict success for York City Knights in 2018 – but is adamant they should target promotion from Kingstone Press League One.

The Knights, despite beginning 2017 on the back foot after the club nearly closed down 12 months ago, still reached the play-off semi-finals this year and were only knocked out by a drop-goal after a world-record 26 minutes of extra time away to Whitehaven.

Veteran loose-forward Spears, a marquee signing this time last year after the club was saved by the Jon Flatman takeover, believes those experiences, plus the recent recruitment and the energy already shown in pre-season all point to an even stronger assault on the competition next term.

“All in all it’s been great and everyone’s enjoying it,” he said of the preparations so far.

“I can’t wait to get stuck into playing, and we’ve got that first game against Bradford Bulls as well – it doesn’t get much bigger than that.

“Last year we started poorly, middled out really well and finished just short up at Whitehaven. We’ve talked at length about the positives.

“We got to within one point of the play-off final after, what was it, 106 minutes in that semi-final.

“Without making rash predictions putting us up there to be shot at, the ambition has to be to go one better and get promoted.

“It will be a challenge. Bradford are now in the competition, Newcastle will be strong, Whitehaven are still in there, Hunslet have recruited well, there’s the likes of Keighley and Doncaster, and Oldham have come down and will be strong.

“Realistically we want to be as good as we can be and challenge ourselves to be the best, most consistent team we can be. That has to be the ambition.

“We’re under no illusions about the task at hand and how hard we have to work.

“But if you look at the facilities and the coaching staff, the signings we’ve made and how well we did last year, you have to say that’s where we want to be.

“It’s going to be a massive challenge. But part of our mentality is we ask a lot of each other and work to be the best we can be. You have to want to do that and want to play at the highest level possible.”

Former Featherstone captain Spears, 33, came into a new-look squad last year which had been hastily put together after the 2016 exodus. He says the difference between then and now is clear.

“Obviously there’s been far more continuity in terms of the squad compared to 12 months ago, plus the way we want to play, the calls and the personnel involved.

“It’s not quite picking up from where we left off but it’s been a case of tweaking the odd combination and the odd position, or a slight tweak of a play, rather than wholesale changes or the implementation of a whole new philosophy or new plays.

“It’s a world apart from last year when blokes were thrown together and (head coach) James Ford had to turn them into a team.

“People like myself, Andy Ellis, Ash Robson and Connor Robinson are pivotal players who all played last year. We know each other, we know the calls and how James wants us to play.

“He’s not changed a massive amount in that regard and many of the new lads who have come in are proven Championship or League One players so they’re well set and mentally in the right place anyway.

“It’s just a case of understanding how we want to go about things and doing things the way James wants us to.

“From a strength and conditioning perspective – which is what a lot of pre-season is about – it’s been really good too. Mark Helme (conditioning coach) is excellent.

“The guys who have been retained know the expectations as a club – we want to improve and grow – and the new lads have bought into it in a big way.

“We’ve just been in Pontefract Park (this weekend), doing a lap of the park and the tough hill sessions.

“We did the same 12 months ago and by my reckoning we did 20 per cent more work this time.

“We were talking afterwards, with Fordy and Mark Helme asking how it was. It seemed easier, to be honest, and that to me is a fair reflection of where we are.

“Physically we’re further on in terms of athleticism and fitness.”

On the new recruits for 2018, Spears added: “They’re good lads – good players and good people. James Ford has done his research. He prides himself not just on ability of players but on the ethos at the club.

“The people who come in have bought into that – they’re the right kind of people.”