York City Knights coach James Ford believes the junior development arm of the club is just as important as first-team progress and the move to a new stadium.
The Knights have been touted as a potential Super League club of the future after a rise under Ford that saw them finish third in the Championship last season in front of growing crowds.
With the long-awaited move to a new community facility in the Minster City set to be completed this year, the club has a number of the key elements in place needed to step up.
But they have also focused increasingly on junior player pathways in recent years, with 16-year duo Myles Harrison and A J Towse featuring in pre-season for the Knights as part of a long-term plan to produce more of their own players.
Ford told League Express: “I think it’s absolutely essential.
“Jon Flatman and everybody else at the club is very keen to continue driving it on.
“We have two 16-year-olds from the community game signed on dual-registration this season who have potential, great attitudes and are really coming on.
“We’ve not got a team for them to play in at the moment so they both still play for Heworth, and I understand they’re both playing to a good level in what is a good side in a good comp.
“We’re already looking to bring more young players in for pre-season 2021, and ultimately we’re doing because we want to bring players through with the characteristics that we believe will make good rugby players and good rugby teams.
“Recruiting six, seven, eight or even ten players every season is a challenge and you’re going to get some wrong.
“I’ve certainly got some wrong in the five or six years I’ve been at York.
“It’s not necessarily that the players aren’t good enough, it’s how they fit into how we play and our beliefs on and off the field.
“It doesn’t make them bad people, they’re just not York players.
“We want to improve that process and bring through our own players with those characteristics.
“And I also believe clubs should have some local lads in the side because York fans want to see York lads in the team.
“But it will only happen if they are good enough and some certainly have been; we even lost two in Greg Minikin and Kriss Brining to Super League.
“That’s life, and we might lose a couple more, but that won’t stop us.”
Ford believes the amateur set-up in the city can help strengthen the sport further in York.
He added: “It’s a thriving area.
“York Acorn is a very established club that has been in or around the Premier Division for a long time and it has an abundance of juniors playing.
“Since my time at York, Heworth has been a very strong junior club with hundreds of kids playing in great facilities.
“Their first team is getting stronger with a few ex-York lads and Scott Rhodes doing a good job as coach and they’re getting better all the time.
“Then at New Earswick All Blacks they also have a very strong junior set-up with loads of kids playing.
“I’ve spent some time there and have really appreciated the vibe they have at the club. For the young ones it’s very much about participation, enjoyment and instilling good values, rather than the win-at-all costs you may or may not see at times.
“It’s the kind of environment I’d want my own children to be in.
“First and foremost I’m a Rugby League supporter and want what’s best for the game, for York and the Knights.
“If I can play a part in helping junior coaches in the area then that’s a win.
“What helps, I think, is that I’m genuinely interested in what shape Rugby League in York will have in ten years’ time.
“Will I be there? Probably not!
“But I’d love to be able to see a Myles Harrison or AJ Towse having been at York for ten years and beyond.”