York City Knights are currently sitting top of the Betfred League One table ahead of their huge clash at Derwent Park against Workington Town this afternoon. Defeat could see them lose top spot while a victory would make them favourites for automatic promotion. Nevertheless, whether the team go up automatically or not, it has been an impressive season for York, a club who were on the brink of folding in late 2016. Such has been the turnaround in the Minster city team’s fortunes, the club were able to bring in former NRL player Joel Edwards who joined the club after leaving French team Limoux. The 30-year-old has now settled in at York and has made a handful of appearances for James Ford’s team and he told Get ’em Onside that he is very happy in the city.
“York is a great place to live so we [his wife and himself] consider ourselves quite lucky,” he revealed. “Outside of the rugby we’ve been doing some touristy stuff in England – it’s been a good summer here so far so it’s been great exploring.” A highly rated team on and off the field, Edwards also praised the setup he has joined. “The club and community have been very welcoming so it’s been an easy transition.” The feel-good atmosphere that has been cultivated recently at the club no doubt played a part in enticing a player of Edwards’ quality and experience to the club. “I am really enjoying playing football here. They have a good group of boys at the club. There is a lot of talent in the team and it is great to be apart of,” he added.
With over a hundred first grade games under his belt in Australia with Newcastle Knights, Canberra Raiders and Wests Tigers, the New South Wales born forward has played rugby league at an elite level but still sees quality in League One and even suggests that an element of northern hemisphere rugby league should be used Down Under to further grow the game. “We have had some tough games. I really enjoyed watching the Bradford game from the stands. It was a high quality game and you can see teams that are building each week,” he explained. “I think the promotion and relegation system is great in the UK. It keeps competition and adds a different element to the table,” he added, continuing that “the Challenge Cup provides a lot of opportunity for teams and I think the NRL could really benefit from growing the game over there in the same way.”
Edwards’ career trajectory is certainly an interesting one as. Having departed the NRL at the age of 29, he made the unlikely step from Australia to join Limoux Grizzlies in the Elite One Competition. “It was definitely a left field move,” he acknowledged, “but one of best decisions personally and professionally I made for my wife Kate and I. I have been very lucky to play in the NRL for as long as I did unfortunately, I had a couple of injuries which set me back in my career since 2015. At the end of 2017, I had to have another surgery in the off season which took me out for 4 months. During this time there were also a lot of players off contract, pay disputes, a new Collective Bargaining Agreement as well as the World Cup. Negotiations got delayed heavily and clubs were over the salary cap. A lot of these factors caused movement of players to England which took up quota spots.” Fearing that his release from Wests Tigers could be the end of his professional career, a move back to a local league team in Newcastle – his hometown – was followed by a call from the French club, a move Edwards enjoyed greatly. “I was painting our house with Kate to move into and we got the call from Limoux. It was a great move and we both enjoyed our time in France. Limoux was a great club and community to be apart of,” he said. “Being in France and now England has reinvigorated my passion for the game. I hope to continue to build on my season and play professionally for a few more years.”
Clearly a capable player who has already broken his try scoring duck with the Knights, Edwards is one of the latest parts of Ford’s impressive Knights team and, having signed a deal until the end of the season, will no doubt be of interest to York’s helmsman going forward. Of his new head coach, the Australian was glowing in his praise. “I highly rate Fordy as a coach, he very precise and has clear expectations. His style of football is very complimentary to the way I play and he is well supported by the coaching staff at the club,” he acknowledged. A man who was at the Knights as both a player and a coach before current owner John Flatman arrived at the club, Ford has a relationship with the city and club which perhaps other head coaches may not have, something Edwards noted. “He has a strong rapport and respect amongst the playing group, that is evident each week when the team takes the pitch.” Indeed, the support of Flatman has enabled the former centre to build a squad with varying levels of experience, something Edwards thinks should be great for the club in the future. “It’s important for the club to continue to move forward and progress in their promotion and future. Blokes like Tim Spears, Ben Cockayne & Graham Horne are invaluable with their experiences both on and off the field,” he imparted. “They bring the best out in the playing group and help Fordy guide the younger players. Players like Matt Chilton and Ronan Dixon are extremely talented and with those blokes around them will just take their game to the next level. There is just so much talent in the Knights squad. Fordy is just one of those coaches you want to turn up and give your best performance every week for,” the Australian forward added.
York will certainly require one of their best performances of the season this afternoon if they are to leave Cumbria, historically tough territory for the Knights, with the two points from Workington to strengthen their grasp on top spot. “As a team we are approaching this week the same as our previous games,” he expressed. “We will be focusing on what we can control and our game plan. Workington are a quality side, they beat Bradford last weekend so they will be ready to play and confident. We have trained well this week and for me I prepare the same each week. This is just another game in our campaign for promotion, we need to approach it like that and focus on the process and not the outcome.”
The match is certain to be a gripping affair and, such is the importance and magnitude of the contest, it will be streamed live on the OuRLeague platforms. All eyes, as a result, will be on Derwent Park and Edwards will be hoping that his experience and ability will be able to play a big part in ensuring the two points join the team on the coach back to the Minster City.