York City Knights set sights on making it to the next level of Super League

WITH AN ambitious new owner, signings of the calibre of Pauli Pauli and an opening night television date, it is no surprise York City Knights head coach James Ford is looking forward to the 2022 campaign.

AMBITION: James Ford, centre, stands at Wembley with his York City Knights team ahead of last season’s 1895 Cup Final with Featherstone Rovers, one of the teams he believes will be a front-runner to earn promotion to Super League this season. Picture: Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com
AMBITION: James Ford, centre, stands at Wembley with his York City Knights team ahead of last season’s 1895 Cup Final with Featherstone Rovers, one of the teams he believes will be a front-runner to earn promotion to Super League this season. Picture: Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com

The club’s impressive LNER Community Stadium was the venue for the Betfred Championship and League 1 season launch yesterday.

It will also be there that York begin the season against Featherstone Rovers on Monday January 31 – the first game under the competition’s new broadcast deal with Premier Sports.

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Clint Goodchild, an Australian businessman who revealed on Sunday he had bought City Knights from Jon Flatman, is relishing the opportunity to turn it into a Super League club.

Salford's Pauli Pauli has made the switch to the Championship's York City Knights for the 2022 season. Picture : Jonathan Gawthorpe

No one is saying that will happen immediately – Featherstone and relegated Leigh Centurions remain favourites for promotion given the level of investment in their respective squads – but Ford has only been encouraged by his initial meetings with Goodchild.

“First and foremost, I’d like to congratulate Jon,” he said, about someone who helped turn York from a club on its knees in 2016 to one of the most progressive around.

“I’ve really enjoyed five or so years working with him. He’s been really good for the club and rugby league in the city.

“I think it’s a fair assumption Jon will always be welcome back at the club and really fondly thought of by the supporters.

RIVAL: Featherstone Rovers head coach, Brian McDermott. Picture: Tony Johnson

“We are on a really positive trajectory and Clint, coming in, has some fresh ideas. Hopefully we’ll work together as effectively as Jon and I and we can help the club move on to the next level.

“He’s a very ambitious owner. I really liked him and what he said to me. He wants to build a sustainable club rather than just be someone who just chucks a load of cash at it and it either sinks or swims. “We’ve seen that in a lot of different sports; that doesn’t work and doesn’t sit well with me.

“The direction he does want to go in does sit well with me.”

Even though they reached a Wembley final, York’s on-field progress slowed a little last year.

Having been promoted as League 1 champions in 2018 and thrilled and excited their way to a third-place finish in their first year back in the Championship, they came ninth last term having lost more games than they won.

Understandably, there have been some squad changes with four players – captain Tim Spears, Ryan Atkins, Danny Washbrook and James Green – all retiring.

Ford has brought in the likes of England Knights prop Masi Matongo from Hull FC, the considerable bulk of ex-Wakefield Trinity second-row Pauli from Salford Red Devils and new half-backs Jamie Ellis and Liam Harris.

He admitted: “Featherstone and Leigh are probably the favorites of the comp’. Halifax have got a real squad as well. We think we’ll be better than last year. We were two wins away from the play-offs and played two games less than the side that finished sixth. We were really disappointed with our end product and we want to be better than that.”

There will be no greater test than that televised opener with Featherstone who have Brian McDermott taking the helm, the former Leeds Rhinos coach who won four Super League titles at Headingley.

Ford added: “It’s great that rugby league is being promoted as it is on Premier Sports.

“There’s some exceptional players in the Championship, some really good teams and the team we’re playing – Featherstone – have a head coach in Brian McDermottt who it doesn’t get much bigger than. It’s great that the Championship is getting that exposure. For me, playing against Featherstone is a big deal.

“Featherstone historically have arguably been the best team in the championship for 20-odd years.

“We want what they’ve got. I think the team that goes past Featherstone will probably end up in the Super League. If someone can go past them.

“We’re really looking forward to the challenge. It will be an immense challenge against a very good team but we’re excited by that.”