One of the club’s numerous big signings, Atkins lines up to start the new season tonight when they face Championship rivals Sheffield Eagles at Doncaster’s Keepmoat Stadium in the Betfred Challenge Cup first round.
He left Wakefield Trinity last summer but, shortly after agreeing to join York for 2021, was handed a three-month ban by the RFL after placing a bet on his former club.
Leeds-born Atkins, who twice won the Cup under Smith at Warrington Wolves, had served that in plenty of time to be able to make his York debut in last week’s friendly against Hull FC.
He said: “I’m looking forward to repaying them for giving me a chance in the Championship.
“They’re a club who have attracted a lot of high-profile players and I was blown away when I met Fordy at the new stadium.
“If it wasn’t for York, I probably wouldn’t have carried on playing,” he said.
“There were another couple of clubs I had been talking to but as soon as I spoke to Fordy and heard his philosophies, he just reminded me of Tony Smith.”
Atkins spent most of his 10 years at Warrington under former England coach Smith and scored two tries when they beat Leeds Rhinos at Wembley in 2010.
“I loved working with Tony and everyone used to take the Mick and call him my dad as that’s how close we were,” he recalled.
“We still are and I still speak with him every couple of weeks.
“He was a real mentor for me, not just on the rugby side but life in general.
“Fordy is very similar in many ways. Although Fordy swears a lot more!
“I do see a lot of similarities. Different players feed off different types of coaches and Tony and Fordy are the ones who understand me and I understand them,” he said.
“Now, I can’t wait to show York I wasn’t a waste of money when they signed me. I feel as fit as I have done for a while.”
City Knights have also brought in vastly-experienced Super League duo Danny Kirmond and Ben Jones-Bishop from Trinity as they look to push on and earn promotion to the top flight.
However, first up is the Challenge Cup and a difficult tie against Sheffield.
“We’re under no illusions it will be a tough game,” added Atkins, who has started working as a recruitment consultant for a Wakefield firm.
“Every game will be this year; the Championship and Challenge Cup are great competitions.
“But we have plenty of confidence.
“We’re not arrogant but we have belief that we can go far in both competitions.
“We went well against Hull who brought a near enough starting Super League 13 and that gave us confidence that what we have done in pre-season is paying off,” he added.
Sheffield, meanwhile, have not had a friendly so this will be their first game in a year since Covid shut down the Championship last March.
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