Championship new boys York City Knights raised a few eyebrows on Sunday, as they battled to a 24-20 defeat at SuperLeague hopefuls Barrow Raiders in the opening round of the Northern Rail Cup, with a performance which they hope will set a benchmark for the season ahead.
Early tries in either half from Mark Gleeson, James Nixon (2), Ned Catic and Martin Ostler were enough to give Barrow the victory in Rugby League legend Garry Schofields first game in charge, however it was the Knights that finished each half stronger and visibly fitter, with tries from Danny Wilson, Ryan Esders, Dave Sutton and Jon Presley ensured a tense finish.
Those encouraging fitness levels are the end result of a painstaking pre-season schedule that started back in October, and has been masterminded by the ruthless new team conditioner Alan Dickinson, and Head Coach Dave Woods believes that it could prove vital to Yorks chances of survival in Rugby Leagues second tier.
“The way we have been training will certainly give us a good start as fitness is a major contributor to winning games,” Woods explained. “We are a lot fitter and stronger than last year and the boys are really looking forward to the season ahead. People are already writing us off, but that’s because some clubs don’t prepare well enough when they get promoted.
“We need to compete in all our games and the wins will take care of themselves, although if we do get beat our fitness should be able to take us to the end of the game where we would be looking to gain bonus points, which will also help us.”
As for Sundays opening performance at Barrow, Woods had mixed reactions. He said: “On one hand, we can take some things out of it, but on the other hand, we can be real disappointed with some of the things we did.”
However Woods cannot fail to be encouraged by what he saw with tough tests against Featherstone and Keighley coming up at Huntington stadium, and the long trip down to London to take on the Skolars, before the league kicks off in earnest.
“I think that we can push for a play-off spot this year. I know we keep talking about staying up, which yes is definately what we want to achieve. The competition is a very hard one, but I am confident in what we’re doing that we will go ok throughout the year.”