York City Knights young star Tyler Craig has been on a steep learning curve in professional rugby league ever since injuries in the ranks saw him promoted to first-team action just as he turned 19 towards the end of last season, but the former Heworth and York College loose forward wouldn't have it any other way.
Craig has only been playing rugby league for a few years after initially starting out in the round-ball game, but he was soon spotted as a potential star by former Knights coach Chris Thorman while he impressed as a 16 year old in his first year at York College. And thanks to the partnership between the college and the Knights, his player pathway was clearer than ever. The partnership has been going since 2007 and sees the City's professional team provide York College with expert coaching, physio and conditioning.
"I really enjoyed my time whilst at York College." Craig said: "When I first got there it was a bit in the air with rugby and it was sort of pushed to the side with football being the main sport, but then Chris Thorman got involved as head coach and made it a whole lot better. The Knights were always very helpful and when I got offered to start training with the Knights during my second year at College I was over the moon."
As well as being spotted by the Knights, Craig also left York College in 2011 with a triple grade Merit in Sports, Coaching and Fitness.
"Facilities wise it was excellent too." said Craig: "I really developed as a player both on and off the field during my time there."
After breaking into the Knights first team at the end of last season and an impressive pre-season training camp which saw Craig dominate all kinds of fitness tests, he was rewarded with the number 13 shirt by new head coach Gary Thornton, and has since played an important part in some big games - most notably a 24-16 victory over Featherstone Rovers, as the Knights challenge for the Kingstone Press Championship play-offs. However he is always looking for improvement:
"I'd say its been both good and bad so far in 2013. I thought I had a real good pre season, but I just can't seem to stop getting these little injuries at the minute, which is very frustrating as I'm a young lad and want to be playing as much as I can. Hopefully I can soon get a bit more game time and more chances to show what I can do."
As for what the future holds, Craig is always looking onwards and upwards: "The ultimate goal would have to be to make it in Super League." said Craig: "I would love to be in a full time environment playing at the very top level!"
And with Danny Brough, Peter Fox, Jason Golden, Ian Kirke and another former York College RL star Tom Lineham all making the successful step up to Super League after starring for the Knights, it would not be at all surprising if Tyler Craig is the next one to hit the big time.
The York College Rugby League team are now coached by Knights Community Officer Jack Stearman and won this year's Student RL Yorkshire College League Division Two title.
"The lads have been absolutely outstanding all year. In training the lads have been excelling and their performances on the pitch have been really good." Said Stearman.
"It is a massive learning curve for all the lads to make the step up to the next level, but throughout all teams we have 7 players who are now signed on with York City Knights in one form or another and it is an important stepping stone to the Knights u20s squad. It shows any young rugby player in York that the pathways to pro-rugby are there, while earning further educational qualifications at the same time. Its a win win situation for anyone who is willing to work hard enough for it."
For prospective students looking to start in September, the York College Development Centre is one of the very few in the region and attracts stiff competition for places. Professional standard coaching is provided by the College through the use of coaches from the York City Knights and training takes place on both grass and 3rd Generation synthetic pitches and players will play regular Wednesday afternoon fixtures in the Student Rugby League (SRL).
Players of all abilities and experience are welcome, including Rugby Union players. Opportunities are also there for students to represent their country at International level.
Please visit http://www.yorkcollege.ac.uk/sportsdevelopmentcentre/rugby/ for more information.
Meanwhile the Knights have announced that all their junior fans under the age of 16 will be able to watch their Kingstone Press Championship home games completely free of charge for the rest of the 2013 season.
A club spokesman said: "All under-16s will get free entry as long as they are accompanied by an adult, as the decision was made to help make it easier for families in York to watch top sporting entertainment throughout the Summer during these tough economical times."
"The Knights know how important our fans of the future are to the club, and with many enjoying themselves at the Knights Foundation holiday camp this half-term, it is hoped that they and many more come and join us to have fun with their families on a match day too, starting this Sunday at home to Doncaster!"