MARK Applegarth admits his appointment as York Knights’ new head coach came as just as much of a surprise to him as it did to supporters.

The former Wakefield Trinity boss returned to the Knights last week as part of a behind the scenes restructuring that has seen Andrew Henderson move to become the club’s new Head of Rugby Operations & Development.

Despite a frustrating start to the Betfred Championship season, York had seemed to have turned a corner under Henderson over recent weeks, with a 40-18 triumph at home to Halifax Panthers backed up by the most remarkable of comebacks at Swinton Lions.

And they were agonisingly close to three consecutive wins against high-flying Widnes Vikings, only for a controversial decision from referee Mike Smaill resulting in Mike Butt scoring the winning try with just two minutes left to play.

The news of Applegarth’s appointment in a statement from chairman Clint Goodchild last Wednesday shocked many supporters, with the new boss revealing that the process took less than 24 hours.

“It was really quick, to be fair,” he explained. “It all happened within 24 hours, so it got me by surprise as much as I’m sure it did you guys!

“But I’m looking forward to getting started, and get back to what I do best, which is good.”

The Wakefield-born forward is no stranger to the Knights, having scored 27 tries in 120 appearances across his two spells as a player.

Albeit, things are very different now than they were when he closed out his career at the club as a player/assistant coach in 2016.

“It’s a little bit surreal, and I’m so delighted with how everything’s been developed,” Applegarth admitted.

“The ground is unbelievable for rugby league, 8,000 seater stadium, it’s modern and the training ground is first class.

“My job is to make sure that we start firing from a performance side of things as well.

“I’m really excited to be back and very pleased to see York with the facilities that it deserves for such a nice city.”

Applegarth is back for a third spell with the Knights, having made 120 appearances as a player.Applegarth is back for a third spell with the Knights, having made 120 appearances as a player. 

Applegarth arrives back in North Yorkshire having taken up his first managerial position since being axed by Wakefield at the end of last season.

And though his tenure ultimately ended with the Belle Vue club relegated after a 26-year stay in the sport’s top flight, he believes that he will only be a better coach for the experience.

Replaced by Daryl Powell during the off-season, his family has been at the forefront of his time away from the game.

“It was obviously an interesting year last year, but it was a very good year in terms of coaching, for experience,” he reflected.

“ [After leaving Wakefield] I started doing my own coaching, a lot of 1-2-1 coaching, and some talks to businesses even.

“And I’ll be honest, my daughter has just turned three. It’s been four or five months of just being at home and watching her grow up. Chatting to a lot of people, they’ve just said ‘don’t let that time fly you by.’ I’ve just loved spending some time with my daughter and bonding with her.

“Around March-time, I started getting that rugby twitch again, as everyone told me that I would. I’ve been looking for that opportunity and York has great ambition and I think there’s all the infrastructure in place to be a top level club.

“It’s just a case of making sure that over the next couple of years that we’re doing things on the field right as well so that we can hopefully go for that licensing next time it’s available.”

Ged Corcoran and Paul Cooke, alongside Will Leatt, will remain with the club.Ged Corcoran and Paul Cooke, alongside Will Leatt, will remain with the club. (Image: Craig Hawkhead Photography)

The 39-year-old has confirmed that he will retain the club’s coaching staff - Ged Corcoran, Paul Cooke and Will Leatt - as he transitions into his new role.

And he is excited to work alongside Henderson - who reprises the role in which he excelled at Keighley Cougars before joining York - someone who he has known for over two decades.

“I’ve known Hendo for 20-plus years, he’s a champion of a guy,” Applegarth continued.

“Clint, I’m just getting to know, but he’s very passionate about his rugby league. He’s very passionate about York and is very knowledgeable, not only on the rugby side of it, but that strategy and business administration side of it.

“I’m looking forward to working with them on that.

“It’s going to be a different set-up from what I’m used to, but it’s a challenge that I’m looking forward to as well.”

Henderson has also provided plenty of welcome guidance about the team Applegarth is inheriting.

“Andrew Henderson is an absolute champion of a human being, first and foremost,” he reiterated.

“He’s given me an update on the squad and said if there’s anything that I need, he’s available, which sums up what he’s like as a guy.

“The lads were off last week, like I know a lot of clubs were, and so I met them for the first time on Tuesday.

“Again, I’m just really happy with their response, and the energy that they brought was first class.

“I’m looking forward to another tough session tonight, and we go again at Dewsbury on Sunday.”