MARK Applegarth wants York Knights to take pride in their defence - starting with Sunday's trip to Dewsbury Rams (3pm).

The Knights will be hoping to record a second win of the season against their West Yorkshire opponents, having edged their Betfred Challenge Cup third round tie 14-8 back in February thanks to Nikau Williams’ last-gasp winner.

But both sides are in desperate need of points as they return to Betfred Championship action following a fortnight’s break for the Wembley finals.

York are outside the relegation zone on points difference alone, whilst a gap has already opened up to the last-placed Rams, whose solitary league win came against Batley Bulldogs back in March.

The Knights’ attack has been relatively firing, with their 201 points scored far from the worst in the division, but still 54 less than they have conceded.

However, they gave away a half-century to Wakefield Trinity, 36 to Whitehaven and saw Widnes Vikings overturn a 14-point half-time deficit in their most recent match, with Applegarth keen to see their defence tighten up during the second half of the campaign.

“First and foremost, you’ve got to have that defensive mindset,” he admitted. “Defence wins Championships.

“Good attack will win you a game here or there, but you look at any team over the last 20 years, they’ve all had solid defences.

“I’m a defence-minded coach in terms of that I like a gritty team, a team that takes pride in not leaking points. I know that’s easy to say and it doesn’t happen overnight, but that’s what we’ve got to aspire to be.

“The contrast to that is that I do like playing rugby league, but it’s getting that mindset right first that you’ve got to be able to defend, it’s not just a case of winning games 48-44 or whatever.

“We’ve got to make sure that we take great pride in our try-line.”

Read more:

As for if he can repeat the feat of the Knights’ incredible run to the play-offs in the second half of 2023, Applegarth insists he will continue to take things one game at a time.

“As a player, and as a coach, you can’t afford to look too far into the future,” he explained.

“I’d love to sit here and tell you that we can do this and that, but it’s just one game at a time.

“Looking at that playing squad, if we keep everyone fit and everyone firing, it’s obviously capable of being at that other end of the table.

“But first and foremost, we’ve got to make sure that we do our job on Sunday, get off to the start that we want, and then we can start going from there.

“But it’s one game at a time, we’re looking no further than Dewsbury Rams at the moment because that will be a very difficult game.”

Nikau Williams' last-gasp try secured victory for the Knights in Dewsbury earlier this season, but Applegarth has warned the Rams are desperate for a win on Sunday.Nikau Williams' last-gasp try secured victory for the Knights in Dewsbury earlier this season, but Applegarth has warned the Rams are desperate for a win on Sunday. (Image: Craig Hawkhead Photography)

Having taken to the field at the FLAIR Stadium many a time during his playing career, he is well aware of the challenges the Rams will pose.

He said: “I know a lot about Dewsbury, I’ve played at the ground there as a player many a time.

“When I was at Batley, I used to play in the Heavy Woollen there, so I know how passionate their fans can be.

“I watched their first half against Wakefield and I thought they were very gritty for those first 20 minutes, they’re not just going to roll over. They’re fighting for their life.

“They’ve got some good players there who I’ve also coached and played with, and Dale Ferguson is still around too.

“They’ll be well-coached, well-drilled and up for it and we have to make sure that we match them in terms of intensity and effort levels, and make sure that we’re firing on all cylinders.”