Friday, 8 March 2019

Sunday's Coming: York

Current darlings of the RFL and its attendant media, the new, new iteration of York City Knights come to Spotland on Sunday - giving Hornets a proper bogey to lay.

In recent seasons, James Ford has had the wood over Hornets - the 26-20 Cup upset defeat at Bootham Crescent (2017) and the 34-20 shambles of a loss on neutral ground at Featherstone (2015) just two that stick in the memory/craw (delete as applicable). In between (2016) they banged us 40-12 at their place. Shall we move on?

York arrive on the back of four consecutive wins after their narrow opening-day defeat against Toronto Wolfpack. Then, after a narrow win at Dewsbury, York have flogged Barrow 56-nil, won at Odsal and edged Leigh 9-8. No slouches.

Despite the impressive start, Ford remains grounded. Speaking in the York Press this week he said : "We’re still learning and finding out about ourselves at this level and we’re still trying to improve. We’ll keep that mentality."

And the mind-games started as early as Monday, Ford citing his side's status as underdogs for this weekend's clash: "“We’re going to Rochdale and Rochdale will be the favourites... we’re away from home and they were in the Championship last year. We’ll need to turn up and be prepared to work incredibly hard, work harder than them, to give ourselves the best opportunity to win the game.”

And Ford puts his side's early success down to hard graft: “You’re only as strong as your weakest link and we’ve got a squad that never gives in and who work incredibly hard."

Indeed, Ford has built a side that finds ways to win tight games. After the one-point win over Leigh he said: “We’re used to having that kind of mentality. We won six games by two points last year and lost one by two, so we had a six-to-one ratio of winning these close games..."

The key here is that this is a side greater than the sum of its parts. A fan comment after the Leigh victory captured that perfectly. 'Peter S1947' wrote: "There are no real stars, but this team attack and defend as a unit and play themselves to a standstill." So matching York's work-rate will be a key requisite if we are to break the hoodoo.

Making the York machine tick is former Hunslet, Doncaster, Fev, Wakefield and Hull KR utility Ben Cockayne. He's paired with fellow ex-Robin Connor Robinson in the halves and they provide a more than handy fulcrum for Ford to run his big pack off. Their playmaking efforts are supplemented by the return to Bootham Crescent of hooker Kriss Brining - back at York after a two season hiatus in Super League with Salford Red Devils. So some quality at the core.

There's also been a return for another former Knight: Joe Batchelor's one-month loan spell from St Helens has been extended until the end of the season. Saints signed Batchelor from York after he caught their eye in last season's promotion campaign.

Hornets come into the game buoyed by last week's deserved win over Barrow. Bar Barrow's early try, Hornets looked comfortably in control throughout and produced some pretty impressive goal-line defence to shut-out the Raiders for 70 minutes. It's that level of commitment that will make the difference on Sunday.

Certainly we've seen week on week improvement from Carl Forster's side and York will provide a good benchmark for what's possible this term.

Beyond that, it's a great chance to lay this bogey once and for all. See you there.