UP to five first-team berths are up for grabs tonight when York City Knights take on Leeds Rhinos Under-20s in their fifth and final pre-season fixture – with star man Ryan Esders needing to fight for his place.

Head coach Dave Woods hoped to have more names already pencilled in for the trip to Championship rivals Barrow on Sunday, for the Northern Rail Cup group match that begins their 2011 season.

But an indifferent performance at Gateshead Thunder on Sunday – plus a few injuries, including to first-team prop Nathan Freer – means a number of positions in the 17 are yet to be filled as the clock ticks down to the big kick off.

The Press believes former Harlequins and Hull back-rower Esders had not originally been down to play tonight but his two needless yellow cards against Gateshead – one for fighting and the other for booting the ball away in a fit of pique after a refereeing decision had gone against him – have seen Woods decide to give him another run to prove his worth.

Other likely first-team candidates in tonight’s team include winger Dennis Tuffour, whom The Press believes has not shone too brightly in pre-season and missed Sunday’s trip to the North East due to illness, Steve Lewis, who also sat out that game with a minor injury, Paul Stamp, Lee Waterman and Mark Barlow.

Reserves hooker Andy Gray might also be knocking on the door to replace usual substitute hooker Stamp after showing up well in pre-season.

Woods said: “There or four or five places in the 17 for Sunday still not filled. It’s more than I would normally have wanted.”

Freer now looks set to miss the Barrow match, having previously been expected to pass fit. He has a hamstring problem.

Off-season recruit Tom Bush has also failed a fitness test so does not get the chance to play against his former Rhinos team-mates, and is almost certainly ruled out for Sunday too. Bush had come through the ranks at Headingley, doing well enough for the young reserves to break into the first team last season.

In better news, Matt Barron, who was helped off the field on Sunday after suffering a groin problem against his former club, now believes his injury to be less serious than first feared. No timescale on his return has yet been set, however.

Fit-again full-back Sam Lynch, the off-season recruit from Castleford, gets his first start in Knights colours, and, as reported by The Press, eye-catching trialist Adam Howard gets another run-out, starting at prop. Ben Dent, a trialist from New Earswick All Blacks ARLC, will be on a bench filled with youngsters.

Leeds’ first team are on a training camp so the Rhinos are to bring a side largely of reserves and academy aces, led by new under-20s coach Damian Gibson.

It is likely to be a similar side to that which beat Hunslet, the Knights’ rivals in the Championship, 36-26 in the annual Lazenby Cup match last month. Kick off is 8pm.

Knights (probable): Lynch, Tuffour, Waterman, Malarkey, Mole, Barlow, Woods, Howard, Stamp, Burns, Lewis, Williams, Esders.

Subs from: Gray, Carmody, Winstanley, Dent, Holmes, Hepworth, Mitchell, Brining, Craig, Fairclough.