After Andy Atkinson and Sharon Shortle gave us their all-time Knights teams over the last two days, today is the turn of Pete Martini, the man who brilliantly covered the Knights from their very first season all the way to the end of 2019. Such longevity means that he will have seen pretty much every player to ever play for the Knights in action and, like Andy and Sharon, has had a tough time whittling it down…
More nostalgia incoming; over to Pete…
Frankly picking an all-time Knights team is an impossible task. You could pick two, three or four teams and still be arguing with yourself about who is left out. Indeed, I changed my mind so many times I nearly missed the deadline for getting this copy in to the guys at the club. But anyway, here goes. By the way, unlike old media colleagues Andy Atkinson and Sharon Shortle who submitted their teams before me, I’ve gone with a 1-17 rather than 1-13, because, y’know, any match is a 17-man game these days. It also means it’s four fewer players to leave out…
Full Back: I personally loved watching Chris Smith batter into tackles in the early days of the Knights, but my full-back spot is between Matt Blaymire and Matty Marsh, with the former getting the nod – if only because the classy Marsh was selected by both Andy and Sharon and this evens things up a bit. Ultra solid and with the talent to forge a career in Super League, Blaymire was probably more key to the 2005 NL2 title success than many of us realised at the time.
Selection: Matt Blaymire
Winger: On one wing we have to have Peter Fox, the speed merchant record-breaking try machine, who went on to play for England and is still a favourite down at Acorn.
Selection: Peter Fox
Centre: I scribbled half a dozen names for the two centre berths but, inside Foxy, I’ve gone with Dan Potter. The duo formed a memorable and deadly all-York partnership so why break them up? The ‘Flying Postman’ also did his bit defensively in that 2005 success. (NB I’d forgotten about the ‘Berk and Jerk’ nicknames the pair of them had until I read Andy Atkinson’s selection, and that’s another reason not to break up the partnership!)
Selection: Dan Potter
Centre: What about the other centre spot? Neil Law was a powerhouse and often unstoppable from 15 yards out, while Liam Salter has been brilliant since his arrival, barely making a mistake with or without the ball. Chris Langley was also very much in consideration. But I’ve gone with Greg Minikin, a homegrown talent who is now of course enjoying a career in the top flight. It was probably tongue-in-cheek when James Ford revealed that one of his master tactical plans was simply “Just Pass The Ball To Greg”, but it probably wasn’t too far from the truth either.
Selection: Greg Minikin
Wing: Austin Buchanan was on the shortlist for the other wing, but for me it came down to Tom Lineham and Alex Godfrey. The former was not as quick as the wonderfully nicknamed ‘Flying Pig’, who has gone on to bigger and better things in Super League of course, but Godfrey was a character whose abilities benefited the team in other ways. You never quite knew what would happen when he was involved but he was capable of big moments and he was certainly an entertainer.
Selection: Alex Godfrey
Half Backs: At half-back, you have to have Danny Brough – he came to York as a young hopeful but quickly showcased his talents, smashed age-old York club records and went on to more than fulfil his promise with a stellar Super League career plus World Cup campaigns to boot. Picking his half-back partner was as tough as it gets. Scott Rhodes thrilled his home crowd on plenty of occasions, Paul March was full of class and knowhow, even in the dark arts, and was a great character to write about, Liam Harris was a crowd favourite, Jonny Presley a good servant, and Chris Thorman was an organiser-in-chief who shone on big occasions. But I’ve gone with Connor Robinson. Having two left-footers in the halves might not bring balance but Connor broke Brough’s records and was a central figure in the club’s rise to the upper echelons of the Championship, so how can he be left out? That said, I’m probably already regretting not picking Ben Cockayne.
Selections: Danny Brough & Connor Robinson
Props: At number eight is Rich Hayes, a York legend whose return to his hometown outfit in the early years was a huge fillip for the new club, and his fellow starting prop is Paul Broadbent. A GB international and a Challenge Cup winner, Beans had only one year at the Knights but, as a big-name player-coach in season one, his impact cannot be understated in bringing pride back to York RL. He was also brave enough to take on the challenge of rebuilding the club at a time when many others would have been happy to look on from afar.
Selections: Richie Hayes & Paul Broadbent
Hooker: In between those two has to be Lee Jackson. Another GB international with a Super League past, the classy, cool, crafty hooker had a huge impact in the early years of the Knights and only left after he’d helped them to promotion.
Selection: Lee Jackson
Second Rows: Picking the second-rows was harder still. Aussie ace Simon Friend would get in on another day, likewise Rob Spicer, Jason Golden, Dave Buckley, Jordan Ross, the uncompromising Sam Scott, club stalwart Mick Ramsden and homegrown favourite Ed Smith. Today, though, I’ve plumped for Joe Batchelor. He came from out of nowhere to be a firm fan favourite and indeed a match-winner, and a star man of the wonderful 2018 title success. It was no surprise when St Helens came calling.
Next to him is Ian Kirke, who was similar in many ways to Batch, only 13 years earlier. He was probably more unsung than Batch but he was likewise a hero of a title triumph – and he went on to win SL with Leeds too.
Selections: Joe Batchelor & Ian Kirke
Loose Forward: You have to mention Trevor Krause, Damien Reid and David March when considering who to pick at loose-forward, all of them bringing different qualities to the table. But I have to go with Tim Spears, a captain marvel who was key to instilling a match-winning, points-winning, title-winning mindset on and off the pitch.
Selection: Tim Spears
Interchanges: Like I mentioned earlier, no modern rugby league team these days comprises only 13 players, and adding subs allows me to select more favourites, starting with the interchange hooker. Andy Ellis, in the twilight of his career at York, was a class act, Jack Lee had a good long run, and jack-in-the-box Jimmy Elston was brilliant to watch. Just pipping the latter as an impact hooker, though, is Kriss Brining. Another local product, Kriss was also a match-winner whose strength defied his size and whose ability to score tries from dummy-half was at times a cross between breathtaking and head-shakingly hilarious. It was a shame injury cut short his time in Super League but here’s hoping he gets another shot.
My second sub is Ryan Esders, as an interchange second-row or centre – and someone who could certainly shake up a game. He maybe had the occasional error in him but, blimey, was he a frightening prospect to play against – just ask Oldham playmaker Neil Roden after the 2010 Grand Final. In fact, just imagine having to face Esders and Ian Bell for that brief period those two played together on York’s edges. I’m having nightmares thinking about it.
The last two bench spots are for props, the first being Adam Sullivan. He maybe he didn’t quite kick on as hoped after the wonderful highs of 2005 but for a period in that campaign he almost single-handedly put York on their title surge, his memorable game-changing, season-defining performance at Keighley being the highlight.
Last but not least is Graeme Horne, a skilful, experienced, classy prop who used his proven SL knowhow to lead the Knights into the Championship and indeed their best-ever finish.
Head Coach: Now to who will coach the team. Mick Cook won the 2005 title and Dave Woods the 2010 grand final, while Richard Agar’s class of 2004 were wonderfully entertaining in a memorable season. On a professional note I also have to say every coach the Knights have had during my time at The Press have been brilliant to work with. But I can’t look beyond James Ford as the man for the job. He is by far the longest serving Knights coach and he has shown all sorts of qualities in that time, not least guiding the team through all the off-pitch strife a few years back – during which time he still never missed out on the play-offs. He then beat mighty Bradford Bulls in a remarkable title race that will live long in the memory and he even topped that last year when taking the Knights to easily their highest ever finish – turning heads, pulling up trees and pulling plenty of rabbits out of hats in the process.
Selection: James Ford
So there you have it, my all-time Knights 17. I also have about 20 more players on a standby list, for when I change my mind.
Pete Martini’s All-Time Knights Team: 1. Matt Blaymire, 2. Peter Fox, 3. Dan Potter, 4. Greg Minikin, 5. Alex Godfrey, 6. Danny Brough, 7. Connor Robinson, 8. Richie Hayes, 9. Lee Jackson, 10. Paul Broadbent, 11. Joe Batchelor, 12. Ian Kirke, 13. Tim Spears. Subs: 14. Kriss Brining, 15. Ryan Esders, 16. Adam Sullivan, 17. Graeme Horne.
Head Coach: James Ford