SHEFFIELD Eagles boast a stronger squad than they did last season, York Knights head coach Andrew Henderson has warned.

The sides will come head to head in the Fourth Round of the Betfred Challenge Cup at the LNER Community Stadium this afternoon (3pm) 10 months on from their enthralling tie at the same stage of last year’s competition.

That was a game likely to live long in the memory, with the Knights surviving a second-half onslaught to run out 24-22 victors.

“It was quite an incredible game, really,” Henderson recalled with a smile. “An incredible performance from the team of 2023.

“I think that it’s up there as one of the best games as a coach I’ve been involved in.”


Veteran second-rower Danny Kirmond scored twice in three minutes as the Knights raced into a 20-point lead midway through the opening half, but he soon turned from hero to villain after being shown a straight red card by James Vella 10 minutes before the break.

York were undoubtedly under the cosh after the interval, with Kris Welham, Cory Aston, Jason Bass and Matty Chrimes all scoring for the Eagles, but a stunning AJ Towse try proved enough to see the hosts over the line.

“We really came out of the blocks and got off to a fantastic start,” Henderson enthused.

“I think we were 20-0 up after about 20 minutes. You couldn’t have asked for a better start, everything we planned and practiced fell into place.

“Unfortunately we lost Danny Kirmond on the 30-minute mark, he was sent off for the remainder of the game and we had to play with 12 men for 50 minutes. 

“We survived a late surge from Sheffield which we knew was going to come, they were in great form as as a team and right before the game, they had been scoring freely, and we know the attacking threat that they possess.

“It was the way that the team showed courage, grit and determination that was most pleasing, as well as the quality that we saw when we did have the full complement out there.

“It was a real class occasion for us, and definitely a great game, so hopefully we can produce a level of performance on Sunday that gets us through to the next round.”

York Press: Second-rower Danny Kirmond scored twice before being sent off in the Knights' Challenge Cup triumph last season.Second-rower Danny Kirmond scored twice before being sent off in the Knights' Challenge Cup triumph last season. (Image: Craig Hawkhead)

Whilst the Knights had raced out of the blocks in their Challenge Cup clash, they needed a spectacular second-half to dispatch Mark Aston’s side in their Betfred Championship meeting in July, overturning an eight-point half-time deficit to run out 23-18 victors.

That was amid a run that saw York triumph in 10 of their last 11 matches to make the Play-offs on the final day of the regular season, but neither them, nor Sheffield, could progress further than the Eliminators after their respective defeats to Bradford Bulls and London Broncos.

But Henderson believes that the Eagles will pose a stronger threat this term, with former Knights pair Matty Marsh and James Glover and ex-Wakefield Trinity prop Eddie Battye among their off-season recruits.

“We know we’re up against a very, very good side,” he conceded.

“They’re very well-coached and they’re going to ask a lot of questions of us defensively. They’ve got some fantastic strike and attacking players.

“I actually think their squad this year is stronger than last year. I think that Mark’s done a good job with his recruitment and I think he has a bit more strength and depth, and a bit more quality across the squad in every position.

“It’ll be interesting to see what we come up against. It’s an exciting challenge that we’re looking forward to.

“But from our point of view, we’ve just got to focus on looking to fine-tune some of the areas that we’re looking to improve and having an opportunity now for the team to really start to come together now over the next couple of weeks.”

York Press: Matty Marsh, who joined Sheffield from the Knights during the off-season, is in line to feature.Matty Marsh, who joined Sheffield from the Knights during the off-season, is in line to feature. (Image: Craig Hawkhead)

He expects “try poacher” Marsh, who missed half of the 2023 season after aggravating an old wrist injury that later required surgery, to feature.

“There’s a good chance he’ll be selected - he’s been in a couple and he’s been out of a couple.

“But I guess that’s the same as most teams this year, they’re having a look at different players in different positions and roles to make those final decisions.

“I expect him to play, and I’m looking forward to welcoming Matty back to the club, but I’m obviously hoping that it’s not a great day for him!”