Ahead of the 2020 Betfred Championship season and after a strong showing in last year’s competition, head coach James Ford has brought in seven new faces into the club as the Knights look to build on 2019’s third place finish in our first year back in the second tier after promotion. Here, Joe Smith takes a look at those new faces who will be pulling on the amber and black this year…
Until now, Hull-born Danny Washbrook’s career had been solely in Super League barring a clutch of appearances away from the club on dual-registration. The 34-year-old made his debut for the Airlie Birds all the way back in 2005 and, as such, has a wealth of experience head coach Ford will hope to draw upon during the season. Known for his versatility during his time in East Yorkshire, Ford himself noted recently about how that could help the club throughout 2020: “he can play in just about any position… he’s played at centre, in the halves, at hooker, at middle back row and edge back row,” he remarked in an interview with The Press.
With over 300 appearances at the top level with Hull FC – in two spells – and Wakefield Trinity, Washbrook is the most experienced player the Knights have brought in for 2020 and his leadership will no doubt be of benefit to the team this year after the recent departures of Ben Cockayne and Graeme Horne.
Eyebrows were raised when the Knights announced the signing of Chris Clarkson. After all, the forward’s last appearance came in a Super League play-off semi-final defeat for Castleford Tigers and many felt that the 29-year-old would be a Super League player as we entered a new decade. He, however, instead joined the Knights and is another player with great experience at the top level who, the club hope, will be able to push the team forward. A man who has appeared in both Super League and Challenge Cup finals, Clarkson’s quality will add to an already strong pack for 2020 but he also brings qualities off the field, something James Ford noted on his signing. “After doing our due diligence on him it was clear from everyone we spoke to that he came with a glowing reference with regard to his attitude and the standards he adheres to both on and off the field,” he commented, no doubt confident the new signing will continue to develop the culture Ford and his staff endeavour to build at the Knights. “I’m looking for Chris to be one of the leaders in our pack in 2020, and I feel he will have a positive impact on our team. At 29 years old he brings a lot of experience but he still has some of his best years ahead of him, he is probably at peak physical shape for a forward,” he further added.
A giant of a man, James Green’s arrival at the Knights came following off-field troubles at his former club Bradford Bulls and, as a result, he knows the Knights well after the recent rivalry between the clubs. With well over a century of appearances to his name, Green’s arrival further adds to the experience being added to what, in 2019, was a young Knights squad. A prop-forward, Green’s height makes him a challenge to tackle and, even if you manage to stop his forward yardage, his offload game is top notch, something Ford has recently alluded to: “he can bring a bit of second phase ad-lib stuff where probably over the last couple of years we’ve been lacking.” After a strong showing from the interchange bench in his first match in the amber and black against Featherstone Rovers, Knights fans will be keen to see more from the Beverley-born 29-year-old in our first home match of the decade against Halifax RLFC on Sunday 19th January.
York-born half-back Ben Johnston was the fourth signing announced in the off-season, signing from Halifax RLFC. A real threat with ball in hand, 27-year-old Johnston made over a century of appearances for his former club, including a Challenge Cup semi-final appearance in 2019 when Halifax gave St Helens as good as they got. Johnston has previously spoken of his friendship with fellow half Connor Robinson, something head coach Ford feels will benefit the Knights in 2020. “I think having strong connections with your team-mates is always important and it can certainly help the dynamics of a group,” Ford told The Press last month. “Those two will have a huge job to do, not only on the field but in terms of driving our standards and helping some of the younger players develop,” he further noted, adding that he’s been impressed with how they’ve stepped up into that role. Known for his excellent support play, Knights fans got their first glimpse of Johnston’s game in Sunday’s pre-season encounter against Featherstone Rovers and will hope for more when he lines up against his former team on Sunday 19th January at Bootham Crescent. In his previous spell with his hometown club in 2012 and 2013, Johnston scored twelve tries in just seventeen games – fingers crossed for more this year!
Another player with a large amount of experience, Will Sharp signed up to join Ford’s Knights, leaving Halifax to join the club. The 33-year-old has made over a century of appearances in both Super League, with Harlequins and Hull FC, and the Championship, with Featherstone and Halifax, and boasts a strong try-scoring record in both. “I’m pleased to sign Will. He’s a big athletic lad who will bring strike power and experience to our edges,” Ford said following his signing. Knights fans saw a glimpse of what Sharp can do after watching him score for Halifax against the Knights in the final match of the regular season last season and will be hoping that he can build on his nine tries in 2019 while wearing the amber and black this season.
A season-long loan signing, teenager Elliot Wallis arrives at the Knights as a man with great potential and, given the success of James Ford and his staff in developing young players in recent years, the belief is that the club have a potential star on their hands. He missed the majority of 2019, however, ruled out through injury but, after making his Knights bow in Sunday’s draw against Featherstone Rovers, it seems all of those worries are behind him and that he is now in a place to really kick on in the battle for a wing berth in the amber and black. “Elliot is a young player with plenty of potential,” head coach Ford told the media following his signing. “He’s a good size, is very aggressive, strong and fast,” he added and Wallis will no doubt be keen to show what he can do while fighting for a regular spot in the Knights side. After crossing for his first try in York colours on Sunday, he will no doubt be hoping for more as the year progresses.
Possibly the most eye-catching signing of our off-season, Hull KR’s Jimmy Keinhorst arrived on a season-long loan to the joy of Knights fans. After all, Keinhorst has been a consistent performer in recent years for both Leeds Rhinos and, more recently, the Robins and eyebrows were perhaps raised when he was allowed to leave the latter at the culmination of the 2019 campaign. With over fifty career tries to his name and in excess of a century of Super League appearances, 29-year-old Keinhorst is another player joining the Knights with vast experience at a higher level. “Jimmy will bring strike and threat to our edges, added experience and intelligence to our preparation,” James Ford told the media following his arrival, again adding that he is confident that Keinhorst will be able to help strengthen and develop the club’s culture on and off the field during his time in the Minster city. Last season saw Keinhorst make 28 appearances for Hull KR, scoring seven tries, including a memorable, last-minute effort in the opening round of the season when his team secured a victory over Hull FC.