Friday, 17 March 2017

Up Fer t'Cup: York City Knights

York City Knights made it to the start of the 2017 season by the skin of their teeth.

The Knights have risen - phoenix-like - from the most acrimonious of implosions, in which the tripartite relationship between the RL club, their football club hosts and the local council ended in a slow-motion shit-fight dragged out over six months.

Shiny: The Challenge Cup earlier today
By the time sports management consultant Jon Flatman was announced as the club’s potential new owner (replacing John Guildford) in November, York had already been omitted from the season’s fixtires

The RFL issued a deadline of 1 December 2016 for ownership issues to be resolved and, late on 1 December, the club issued a statement that ownership of the Knights had passed entirely to a consortium headed by Flatman.

Flatman’s first job was to nail down a two year tenancy at Bootham Crescent, which takes at least one pressure off the club as they wait for the completion of the phantom ‘community stadium’ on what was their Monks Cross site.

His second job was to revert the club back to its ‘traditional’ York RL colours of amber and black - last worn by York Wasps in 2002.

The uncertainty at York heralded a player exodus: we have it at ten departees - mostly heading en-bloc for Keighley, Doncaster and Newcastle. But by far the club’s most important signing for its second new start in 15 years is coach James Ford.

Despite heavy rumours that he was off to Sheffield, Ford stayed put to rebuild at York and he’s assembled a useful side boosted by a Dual Reg. deal with Hull KR and this week took Former Leeds Rhinos and England academy forward George Milton from the Robins. Alongside Milton, Ford has also signed former Harlequins RL and Wakefield hooker Andy Ellis - so two to watch right off the bat. And it looks like their arrival has made an immediate impact.

Last weekend saw York land their first win of 2017 - hanging on to beat South Wales Ironmen 26-24, having led 26-10 in the second half. The week before they were beaten 28-nil at Barrow, having been edged out of the League 1 Cup by North Wales Crusaders 16-17. In the Challenge Cup they fared better, beating Egremont 48-8. So a bit of a patchy start - but they will only improve.

After last week’s narrow win, Ford laid into his team. Speaking in the York Press he said: “We’re not a good enough team to take anyone lightly. We had a bloke turn up late, our warm-up lacked intensity and energy, it was a sloppy start and that just continued through the game."

“South Wales have improved but, to be brutally honest, they weren’t great, were they. We were slightly better and that’s as fair as I can be. There were some good individual efforts. The forward pack were good but our execution across the back line was awful… from one to seven it was not good enough…”

He went on: “The players need to be accurate in their own reflections of where they’re at. What we’re churning out is not good enough. Some players need to realise where we are before we can improve. Everybody knows the systems and we still have more than enough ability, experience and skill to put in a performance much better than that. We’re just miles off.”


Ahead of this weekend’s tie, the ’shock’ news is that Ford is about to haul his assistant coach Jonny Presley out of his short-lived retirement to give his young side a bit of ‘old-head’ experience. The 32 year old’s only outing of the season thus far was a sub’s appearance in a pre-season friendly v Hull FC.

Sunday is also likely to see a return for full-back (and last year’s captain) James Haynes and winger Tommy Saxton.

Much like his counterpart, Alan Kilshaw will have come away from last week’s game thinking that Hornets second-half performance could have been tighter and more error-free. But even in the face of an imminent defeat, this side refused to lose - a positive in itself, we guess.

Likely inclusion in the squad this week will be Jono Smith. Described this week as ‘champing at the bit’ to get his season started and he does give us a bit more renegade firepower up the channel.

Hornets come into this game in a most unusual position: the ‘giant’ in a potential giant-killing. We can’t deny, it’s a strange feeling. York will be looking for a big response from their players and what better way to put down a marker than to roll over a championship club - so not a game to take lightly.

Indeed, this weekend’s game gives Alan Kilshaw’s men a chance to lay another of Hornets Hoodoos (York beating us three times last season). And us fans have a role to play in that. Indeed, the supporters were referred to as Hornets ‘18th man’ this week - so let’s go over to Bootham Crescent, make some noise and give the lads a boost. It’s the Challenge Cup: you’d be mad to miss it.