WHEN Taylor Pemberton was relaxing on holiday in Greece last week, the last thing he expected to see was the return of Mark Applegarth to York Knights.

Chairman Clint Goodchild confirmed Applegarth’s appointment as the club’s new head coach last Wednesday, with the 39-year-old now back for a third spell in North Yorkshire, having made 120 appearances for the Knights during his playing career.

York’s former forward has been tasked with revitalising their season, which has failed to live up to the promise of last year’s remarkable run to the Betfred Championship play-offs, and instead sees them only outside the relegation zone on points difference.

Their 255 points conceded is 54 more than they have scored, with Applegarth already setting out his stall as a defensive-minded coach.

Things had been looking up under former boss Andrew Henderson – who now takes up a new Head of Rugby Operations & Development role – with the Knights agonisingly close to entering their mid-season break with three consecutive wins after overcoming both Halifax Panthers and Swinton Lions before coming unstuck at the death at home to Widnes Vikings.

But Pemberton and his teammates are ready to get going in the club’s new era.

“It was a complete shock, to be honest. Well for me anyway!” the former St Helens youngster told The Press of Applegarth’s appointment.

“I just remember being on the sun bed in Greece and seeing a notification come through that Mark Applegarth was the new head coach. I was completely shocked to be honest.

“I don’t think any of us saw it coming – I definitely didn’t! I was a bit confused at first, but then obviously there’s been justifications behind it.

“But I think the lads are just really excited to get going. It’s a fresh start for all of us after the week off, and we’re ready to rip in.”

Welcoming a new head coach midway through the season is a new experience for Pemberton.Welcoming a new head coach midway through the season is a new experience for Pemberton. (Image: Craig Hawkhead Photography)

It is new territory for Pemberton, who made the permanent move to the Knights ahead of the season after an impressive loan spell last summer, for he has never been at a club that has changed coaches midway through the campaign.

He explained: “It’s something that I’ve never had before. I’ve been fortunate to have had a bit of consistency with coaches from being in scholarship, an academy and in the first-team.

“I’ve never experienced a new coach coming in halfway through, but you’ve just got to take it as it is. It’s come at a good time though, when we’ve had a week off, we’re all fresh and open to him coming in.

“It’s a new dynamic, but it’s a new dynamic that we’re all comfortable with and we’re excited to get going.”

The 21-year-old has worked with Applegarth before through the England pathway and having now had two training sessions with his new boss, believes he has brought a real positivity to the club.

“He had his first training session on Tuesday and brought a real positive vibe,” Pemberton continued. “He’s come in and laid down what he wants from the lads.

“I’ve worked with Mash before in the England pathway, and he’s a really good coach. He’s very defensive first, so I think the dynamic of our attack won’t change because he knows the capability of our players and what we can do in attack, but I think he’s going to bring a real defensive focus for the rest of this year.

“I think that is an area we need to, because this year, we’ve been conceding a lot of points. I think that is now our focus going forward, and if we get that right, then we’ll start competing.”

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Applegarth’s first match at the helm sees the Knights travel to rock-bottom Dewsbury Rams tomorrow, hoping for a repeat of their triumph in the third round of the Betfred Challenge Cup earlier this season.

But the West Yorkshire side are in desperate need of points themselves, having won just once this term, despite having matched Championship favourites Wakefield for parts of their 56-0 thrashing at Belle Vue a fortnight ago.

“I think everyone wants to come back with a win, not just for Mash, but for us as well,” Pemberton stated.

“If we come back from the Challenge Cup break with a win, I think it sets us in good stead for the back end of the year.

“There’s still quite a long way to go in the year, but if we can start this next phase off with a win, I think it’ll really kick us into gear again.”

Dewsbury’s narrow pitch brings with it its own challenges, but the young talent believes he is the best he has ever felt, having recovered from an ankle injury suffered in the closing stages of their aforementioned defeat to Widnes.

“We’re expecting the same again from them at their place,” he added.

“It’s a tight field, they play it well, and it doesn’t suit us. But we know that we can still win games in circumstances that don’t suit us.

“They’re going to bring a lot of energy, and they know that we’ve not got the results that we want so far. They’ll be fighting to stay up as well themselves.

“They’re going to come at us with a real energy, but we’ve just got to outdo them and play the way we know we can.”