YORK Knights boss Mark Applegarth is relishing the challenge of Featherstone Rovers this weekend.

The sides will meet at the Millennium Stadium on Sunday (3pm), but the head coach expects a far tougher test than his first match at the helm against Dewsbury Rams last Sunday.

Featherstone, led by former Knights boss James Ford, claimed the Betfred Championship’s League Leaders’ Shield last year, with the big-budget West Yorkshire side living up to their billing of heavy favourites for promotion.

However, they fell short in their play-off semi-final to London Broncos, who later went on to beat Toulouse Olympique in the promotion final.

“I don’t mean this as disrespect to Dewsbury, but Featherstone are a traditional big hitter in the Championship,” Applegarth admitted.

“I think it’s fair to say that most people were expecting them to be in Super League this year, which shows you the calibre of squad that they’ve got - they’ve still got some of that squad now - and they’ll be a very well-coached team. I know their coach very well too.

“They’re a very big set, and physical. I’m led to believe that they’ve signed a couple this week as well which will add another dimension to what they’ve been doing.

“We’re expecting a different sort of challenge to what we had last week, but it’s one we’re looking forward to and we’re relishing.”

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One of those signings has already made it through the doors in West Yorkshire, with half-back Dec Patton joining for the remainder of the season from fellow Championship outfit Swinton Lions.

The former Bradford Bulls star played the full 80 minutes of the Knights’ incredible comeback in Manchester last month, also assisting Andy Badrock’s first-half double.

Applegarth has made no secret of his defensive-minded intentions, and having seen the Knights keep a first clean sheet of the season in last weekend’s 40-0 demolition of Dewsbury, is keen to put that at the forefront again this time out.

“I think it’s got to be,” he stated to The Press. “They’re a very big side, so if we’re not on it defensively, then they’ll come straight through us.

“They’ve got a very physical pack, and then off the back of that, you look at some of the players they’ve got in the back line.

“They’ve got Caleb Aekins at full-back, Greg Eden, who is a proven Super League quality player, Gareth Gale, one of the Championship’s most dominant wingers over recent years, Greg Minikin at centre - there’s some quality there.

“At the same time, we’re relishing that challenge and it’s a good test for us as a team. We want to go in confident in our own ability, and hopefully it will be a really good game.”

A Gareth Gale hat-trick helped Featherstone to a 46-4 victory against the Knights at the Millennium Stadium last year.A Gareth Gale hat-trick helped Featherstone to a 46-4 victory against the Knights at the Millennium Stadium last year. (Image: Craig Hawkhead Photography)

Should Featherstone lose this weekend's clash, it will be the first time they have fallen to four consecutive defeats in seven years.

However, the Knights have not won at the West Yorkshire club since 2006, with Jimmy Elston, Heworth boss Scott Rhodes, John Smith and James Ward on the scoresheet in a 22-16 National League Cup victory.

This weekend marks new territory for Applegarth, who has never come up against Ford as a head coach, with the pair having worked together both during his second spell as a player at York, and at Wakefield Trinity last year.

However, he insists it will not be about the coaching staff for either team - just how the players perform on the pitch.

“When we’ve coached previously, I’ve been doing the reserves and academy teams, and then last year we were together,” Applegarth explained.

“It’ll be the first time, but it’s not really about me and Fordy. I don’t want to go down that narrative, because when they go out on the field, it’s irrelevant.

“Our jobs are done by Friday, and it’s over to the players come Sunday.”