Andrew Henderson on sliding doors moment representing Widnes and building York for Super League

James Gordon
Andrew Henderson York Knights Alamy

York Knights coach Andrew Henderson at the 2024 Championship season launch

Andrew Henderson’s storied rugby league journey is long from finished as he plots taking York Knights to the promised land of Super League.

York are one of the people’s favourites to add to the top flight in the IMG era – a fashionable city within reasonable distance of the majority of teams, now with the facilities to boot following the development of the 8,500 capacity LNER Community Stadium.

They are heading in the right direction on the pitch too, a strong finish to Henderson’s first season in charge in 2023 saw them reach the play-offs, going down to Bradford Bulls at Odsal.

Henderson said: “Our vision is to be a Super League club. And when we are there, we want to build a team that is going to win things up there. 

“With the IMG criteria, the pressure of promotion isn’t there so it gives you the opportunity to have a bit more of a longer-term view, so we’ve decided we want to get a really good group of young players with their best years ahead of them, really grow them and develop them. 

“It’s a big thing for cohesion and then when you do progress, you only have to recruit what you feel you need to strengthen certain areas, rather than having to bring in 12 or 16 new players.

“That’s probably the benefit of not having that threat of relegation either, it gives you time to develop your team, and that’s what we’re trying to do.

“But our job is still to perform as consistently as we can to earn results and finish as high as we can in our respective competition and maximise the number of points we can get. 

“Nothing changes for us, all we can control from a coaching perspective is that performance element, and then we just have to rely on the other powers that be throughout the club to take care of the other bits and pieces that are needed.”

York have recruited the vastly experienced Richie Myler to help guide their young players around the field, also adding Will Dagger and Jimmy Keinhorst from Super League.

The Knights have their sights set on Wembley, facing the high flying Sheffield Eagles in the semi-finals of the 1895 Cup on May 12 – but they have tasted two defeats from two at the start of this year’s Championship campaign.

As a player, Henderson featured 55 times in Super League for Castleford Tigers in 2006 and 2008, after joining the club in National League 1 in 2005 and captaining them to promotion that year and in 2007.

Born in Torquay, Henderson grew up in Australia and is a proud servant of Scotland, earning 23 caps.

His playing career has seen him take in quite the variety of rugby league in the UK, from Cumbria with Barrow Raiders to Gateshead Thunder in the north east, Sheffield Eagles and London Broncos.

His coaching career started with the Broncos in 2015, where he gained plaudits in a three year spell that earned him a move to Warrington as assistant. From there, he made the move to Keighley Cougars as director of rugby before making the move to join York’s ambitious project.

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Andrew Henderson sliding doors moment representing England for Widnes Vikings in the World Rugby Sevens

It all might have gone differently for him had a planned move to Super League ahead of the 2004 season with Widnes Vikings come to fruition.

Henderson had impressed playing in the Northern Ford Premiership for Barrow for two seasons and with Widnes let down last minute by import Jason Ferris, who backed out of a deal to join the Vikings, he was sounded out to sign.

Having already planned to go back to Australia, Henderson instead hooked up with Widnes when they represented England in the World Rugby Sevens in January 2004.

He scored two tries in a defeat against Cronulla Sharks, as Widnes lost all three games in the group stage, also going down against New South Wales Country and Parramatta Eels.

Henderson said: “I got a phone call from (Widnes director) Tom Fleet the day I was flying back to Australia. Obviously back in those days you couldn’t just get an email sent over for the contract! So he said we’re coming out for our pre-season in January it might be better to join up with us then, you can get a look for us and we can see where we go from there. 

“I just trained with a club back home for six weeks and then joined up for the month for the World Sevens and we played Wests Tigers in a friendly, but I had to play at hooker as (Shane) Millard was injured, so originally they were trying to sign me at half-back and I never actually played at half. 

“I got offered a contract but it wasn’t enough for me to justify going back (to England) and funnily enough off the back of that game, I ended up signing for the (Wests) Tigers. 

“There were some good lads in that Widnes team, like Deon Bird, who made me feel welcome. Once they see you train and how you crack, you get that respect. I thought I had a decent sevens and played the full 80 against Wests.

“I was genuinely gutted, because I thought I’d trained well and performed well enough.”

Henderson went on to captain Wests’ feeder club Balmain Tigers that year, and didn’t make an NRL appearance, before he headed to the UK with Castleford for 2005.

He went on to make 371 club appearances in the British game, and has also featured as a pundit and co-commentator since his retirement from playing.

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