YORK Knights boss Andrew Henderson has been encouraged by what he has seen from his side they prepare for the start of the 2024 season.

Thrust into the top job in the throes of pre-season at the end of 2022 after James Ford’s departure to Wakefield Trinity, it’s clear that he has firmly put his own stamp on things this time around.

Former Leeds Rhinos star Richie Myler heads 10 new signings, including Betfred Super League duo Will Dagger and Jimmy Keinhorst, whilst Connor Bailey, Alex Donaghy and Nikau Williams were all regular starters for troubled Newcastle Thunder in the Betfred Championship last term.

And with the acquisition of hooker Taylor Pemberton adding to young trio Oli Field, AJ Towse and Myles Harrison, there is a general consensus that Henderson has struck the balance between youth and experience for 2024.

With a third of his squad new recruits, he believes that the club’s fresh faces have settled in well, explaining that first and foremost, players must be the right fit for the Knights on a personal level.

“I think all of them have acquitted themselves well so far,” he told The Press of the club’s new signings.

“They’ve all fitted in with the group, and I didn’t have any doubts that they would.

“We did our due diligence on all of our players and we identified that they’re good people first, and then obviously good players second. And I think that they’ve all really fitted in seamlessly.

“It’s a credit to the current group that we’ve retained because they’ve accepted them and made them feel welcome, and those new guys, they’ve all fitted in and they’ve really come together nicely during this pre-season campaign so far.”

York Press: The Knights have faced both Castleford Tigers and Hunslet in contested training sessions, but saw a third against Leeds Rhinos called off last week.The Knights have faced both Castleford Tigers and Hunslet in contested training sessions, but saw a third against Leeds Rhinos called off last week. (Image: Craig Hawkhead)

The Knights make their eagerly-anticipated return to action in their AB Sundecks 1895 Cup opener at Newcastle on Saturday (3pm), in what will be their first competitive fixture since early October’s Play-off Eliminator defeat at Bradford Bulls.

Henderson has favoured contested training sessions with both the Super League’s Castleford Tigers and League One’s Hunslet over the traditional pre-season friendlies that saw the Knights face both Doncaster and Batley Bulldogs this time last year.

That is a decision that has raised some eyebrows, but he is confident that he has seen improvements across what he believes has been a worthwhile exercise.

“I’ve seen progression with both hit-outs,” he explained. “Castleford was our first hit-out in what I call a live scenario, and we had some really encouraging signs from that hit-out.

“And the week after, regardless of the opposition - Hunslet are a League One club - it was more about defensively, were we better systematically? Were we better with how we presented ourselves with the ball?

“I think that we’ve made some really good progress from week one to week two, but ultimately, you don’t truly get a good indication until you start playing competitive games, which we will do this week.

“We’ll learn more about where the team is at against Newcastle, but we’ll certainly learn a lot more about the team after that Wakefield game.”

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As for how such sessions are organised, Henderson replied: “I just reach out to coaches.

“I’ve got a pretty good relationship with most coaches in all divisions really. It was just a case of reaching out.

“We were supposed to have a third hit-out against Leeds on Thursday night, but unfortunately with the weather and the conditions, it made that not happen.

“But it’s just about reaching out to coaches, and I think that a lot of coaches like the idea of that opposed training game. 

“You’re not as high a risk of injury as a full-on contact game that you would be with a friendly, but you also get an opportunity to play against other players who don’t really know what’s coming.

“Obviously, when you all train within yourselves, you all know how people move, where you’re going to be. It’s just a different challenge that’s presented to your team.

“They’re definitely worthwhile exercises.”