York City Knights Championship preview - James Ford interview, ins and outs, star man, key number and title odds

They failed to convince the bureaucrats, but York City Knights coach James Ford has no problem with chasing promotion the traditional way, on the field.
York coach James Ford. Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com.York coach James Ford. Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com.
York coach James Ford. Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com.

York were among the clubs who applied to replace Toronto Wolfpack in Betfred Super League this year, only to miss out to Leigh Centurions.

That means they move into their new stadium, which opened to rugby league this month, as a Betfred Championship club, but some eye-catching recruitment highlights an ambition to make it all the way to the elite level, sooner rather than later.

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Chairman Jon Flatman has valued the stadium - and new training facilities- as a £60m investment into the sport by York council and the local St John University.

In addition, he says the club are looking to triple their turnover from the last full season, in 2019.

On the field, signings include former Leeds Rhinos Super League winners Adam Cuthbertson and Ben Jones-Bishop, plus the vastly experienced Ryan Atkins and Danny Kirmond, both past members of the top-flight’s Dream Team.

There has arguably never been a more exciting time for rugby league in the Minster city and in Ford, Knights have a coach they believe is capable of achieving what would have seemed an impossible dream just a few years ago.

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The man himself reckons the rejection of last year’s bid would make achieving promotion by winning the Grand Final even sweeter.

“If we spoke to the players and coaching staff and said ‘would you rather be promoted in a boardroom and a vote or go through 26 rounds and be top of the league and then go to a Grand Final and be promoted that way’, I think it would be unanimous that they’d choose the second way,” he insisted.

“I am with them as well. If we had won that vote we’d have been delighted and really excited to take that challenge on, but we didn’t.

“We spoke about it for a minute or two, but it’s yesterday’s news now.

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“We can’t control what went on in that vote and how people perceived us during that process.

“Our energy is on our pre-season, trying to get that to the highest standards we can and then try and go up the best way.”

Ford played for Featherstone Rovers, Sheffield Eagles, Castleford Tigers, Widnes Vikings and York in a 16-year career, but admits he wouldn’t get in Knights’ 2021 squad.

He said: “We have got a lot of pace and some guile in the middle as well - Cuthbo [Cuthbertson] is a little bit different to what we’ve had previously in and around there.

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“We’ve got lots of experience - Kirmo [Kirmond] and Clarky [captain Chris Clarkson who also won a Grand Final with Leeds].

“It is a really good squad and I am delighted to be working with it and looking forward to getting the best out of it.”

York City Knights

In: Ryan Atkins, (Wakefield Trinity), Daniel Barcoe (Wakefield), Adam Cuthbertson (Leeds Rhinos), Kieran Dixon (London Broncos), Harry Dodd (Wakefield), Ben Jones-Bishop (Wakefield), Danny Kirmond (Wakefield), Tyme Nikau (North Wales Crusaders), Brendan O’Hagan (Wests Tigers), Morgan Smith (London Broncos).

Out: Brad Hey (Hunslet), Ben Johnston (Doncaster), Josh Jordan-Roberts (Rochdale Hornets), Connor Robinson (Halifax Panthers), Will Sharp (Released), Elliot Wallis (Hull Kingston Rovers – loan expiry).

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Number: 886. The number of Super League appearances Trinity’s star signings Ryan Atkins, Adam Cuthbertson, Ben Jones-Bishop and Danny Kirmond have between them.

Key man: Few players have achieved as much as Adam Cuthbertson who won the Challenge Cup and Grand Final twice each with Leeds Rhinos, was an NRL Grand Finalist with Newcastle Knights and a Man of Steel nominee six years ago.

Odds to win Grand Final: 8-1.