“One of the reasons I’ve joined is to get us promoted and playing in Super League. That stadium 100% deserves to be in Super League.”
After becoming the Knights fifteenth member of the squad for 2021, two-time Challenge Cup winner Ryan Atkins is looking forward to wearing the black and amber and arrives with big ambitions.
While all at the club are excited at the prospect of our move to the LNER Community Stadium, eight-time England international Atkins is one of the few to have been shown around our new home and he noted his belief that the stadium, and the club’s wider facilities, belong at the very top. “It’s one of the best facilities I’ve had a walk around and that’s even involving Super League clubs,” he commented.
“It’s next level and it’d only be fitting if we got the club promoted and we were playing Super League in there.”
With an eye on his fellow recruits and retained players for the 2021 campaign, he emphasised his thought that “there’s no excuse why we shouldn’t be pushing to get promoted and that would be brilliant, in my first year playing in the Championship after playing my whole career in Super League.
“Especially next year, with the players we’re recruiting, the facilities we’ve got and the coaches we’ve got, there’s no excuse for us to not be competing at the top.”
The challenge ahead is one Atkins feels invigorated by and he outlined his desire to be a positive influence on his teammates and the club as a wider entity. “I’m excited and I’ve not been excited for a while,” he admitted. “Any good team needs experience and knowledge of the game and I’ll be trying to pass that on in training as much as I can.
“I want to help develop the club’s culture with the players, make that a winning culture and make winning a habit,” he explained. “I think my role will be to pass on my knowledge of what I know has worked at successful, winning teams at Warrington and lead by example.”
On Atkins’ signing, head coach James Ford outlined his expectation that Atkins will be a leader within the team. Reflecting on that, the centre said: “I’ve had some great leaders in teams that I’ve played with. Some are more vocal leaders, and some are about just getting out there, doing it and saying ‘follow me boys’. I’m hopeful that I can have a nice blend of both.”
Discussing the impact of Ford on him signing, Atkins stated that he immediately bought into what our head coach believes, comparing him to one of the best coaches the game has seen. “When I spoke to him, I could just tell straight away that his passion and hunger for the game was evident,” he outlined.
“I love that in a coach. His philosophies and approach remind me of Tony Smith and that’s when I played my best rugby (under Smith at Warrington). I really enjoyed my rugby under him and that’s something I’ve not really felt of late so I just knew that I would be able to work really well with Fordy.
“He had a massive pull on me signing at York.”
Revealing that he didn’t feel the need to talk to former teammates or Knights players ahead of agreeing to join, Atkins does believe, however, that the presence of some players he has previously played alongside will ease the transition in joining the club. “I know Kirmo (Danny Kirmond) and Morgan Smith, they’re two players I’ve played with at my last two teams in Wakefield and Warrington, so it’ll make the move a bit easier knowing a few of the lads,” he stated.
Those two acquisitions perhaps best highlight the mix of experience, ability and potential within the 2021 squad, something Atkins thinks bodes well for next season.
“The squad we’ll have has got a great balance. There’s youth and excitement, a desire to prove they’re Championship players and can kick on into Super League, and then we’ve got some old heads there like myself who are there as the calming bodies, able to offer advice,” he reasoned.
Away from rugby league, Atkins will be transitioning from full-time to part-time rugby league and said that he already has plans to go into recruitment consultancy in the not-too-distant future, something which will be his day job away from rugby league. Having recently departed Wakefield Trinity, he further believes that the enforced break, as well as a long run up to pre-season, will facilitate him being in the best shape he has been in recent years.
“With lockdown and the rest I’ve had at home recently, all the bangs, knocks and niggles I’ve been carrying over the last few years, which all rugby league players do, they’ve all now settled and I just feel a totally different player,” he explained.
“I’ll be absolutely flying in pre-season! It’s been a while since I’ve felt that my body is going to be able to show my full ability and I’m excited about it.”
Those words will certainly be music to the ears of Knights fans who will be looking forward to Super League’s fifth all-time top try scorer donning the black and amber next year and Atkins himself is looking forward to playing in front of them.
“I think the fans are massive and, obviously, there would be no rugby teams without the support of the fans. For them, going through tough times as we are, to be willing to leave their money with the club because that’s how much they love it, then it’s only fair for us, when we get back out on the field, to do the business for them,” he noted.
“I’m looking forward to playing in the new stadium in front of the fans when we get in there. I know the attendances at Bootham Crescent have been great and going up over the years so let’s hope that continues.”
On how vocal support from the stands can have a positive impact on a team during a match, Atkins said: “that moment after two or three tackles in a row when you’re tired but then you hear the fans cheering you on, it kicks you on that little bit.
“Even after you’ve conceded a try and you’re behind the sticks, a bit down and out, you hear that one voice shouting ‘come on boys, you can do this’, or whatever, it really does pick you up.
“Fans won’t realise how much that helps the players – it’s massive.”
Atkins, who suggested that 2021 could be his final year as a player, hopes that Knights fans will like what they see from him when he makes his bow. “I plan on going out with a bang and there’ll be nothing left in the tank,” he vowed. “Every game you’ll see strong carries, some big hits and some tries – and my tongue sticking out in my try celebration!
“Winning or losing becomes a habit so I want to make sure we can kick on with a winning habit.
“I’ll certainly be giving it my all – I’m not ready to go out or hang the boots up yet!” he added.
“I want to help York City Knights get promoted into Super League, where I feel they’re capable of playing and, with the facilities, it’s where they deserve to be.”