The ability of the professional game in York to rise from the ashes will have its first and most searching examination when the newly-formed York City Knights play their inaugural game this afternoon.
The Knights have ridden in to fill the gap left by the demise of the York Wasps midway through last season and the hope throughout the game is that they prove more stable and successful than their predecessors.
With the knowledgable Steve Ferres in charge of recruitment, they have certainly put together a promising squad. Their player-coach, the former Great Britain prop, Paul Broadbent, will miss their opening Arriva Trains Cup match against Hull KR recuperating from shoulder surgery, but any club outside Super League would like to have him, Richie Hayes and Lee Jackson in their front row.
Jackson, another former Test player, was discarded by Hull at the end of last season. "I don't feel I've anything to prove," he says. "But I knew I had another couple of years left. Unfortunately, people there didn't agree."
Even at 33, Ferres believes that Jackson still possesses "the fastest hands from dummy half in the game. He's extremely fit and I think he'll give us two good seasons".
The York-born Hayes was voted into the Northern Ford Premiership Team of the Year for his efforts with Hull KR last season and is noted for his inexhaustible appetite. "Our problem is that we'll have two props – Broadbent and Hayes – who won't come off the pitch," says Ferres. "They both want to play 80 minutes."
Hayes has been appointed captain of a squad that includes two other players recruited from Rovers this winter in Alex Godfrey and Mark Cain, plus the vastly experienced centre, Graeme Hallas, and Trevor Krause, a highly-rated utility player from Queensland.
Ferres is confident that they will be competitive, not just in the group stages of the new Cup that begins today, but also in National League Two when it kicks off in the spring.
Equally important is the financial stability of the new club; it was a chronic inability to balance the books that forced the Wasps to the wall. Ferres says it will not happen again. The success of a membership scheme, with 300 people paying £5 a week in advance, underpins the Knights' effforts to re-establish themselves. "We asked them whether their club was worth two pints of beer a week to them," he says.
Also venturing into the unknown today are the London Skolars, the second professional club in the capital, whose first season begins with a visit from Dewsbury. They are unlikely to get much out of that match, but like York they are in for the long haul.
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