EXCLUSIVE: An interview with Ben Cockayne

imgID141106311.jpg.gallery.jpgA man who is known for being one of the biggest personalities in the sport, York City Knights’ Ben Cockayne is a hugely experienced player who has played at the very top level of the game in the UK. He kindly spoke to Get ‘Em Onside this week as the Knights came off the back of a superb 26-12 victory over Swinton Lions to reach the fifth round of the Challenge Cup.

“We were very pleased with the Swinton game, under the circumstances we showed up well,” the 34 year old explained when talking of the victory over the Betfred Championship side. The game, of course, was moved from the Knights’ temporary home ground Bootham Crescent due to a waterlogged pitch and was instead held at Featherstone’s Post Office Road stadium. Cockayne further explained that York, despite the conditions being appalling, “showed we can compete at a level above where we’re currently at.” York were one of the most fancied teams to be competing at the top in pre season and their early performances so far this campaign have done nothing but strengthen their chances with superb performances against the Lions and Oldham resulting in wins as well as a thoroughly professional victory over Askham ARLFC in the previous round of the cup – a match which, had the Knights not turned up with their customary attitude and application, could have been a banana skin.

Their season started with a superb performance all round as they hosted the former World Club Challenge winners Bradford Bulls but, despite an agonising last minute two point defeat, York left with heads held high having impressed onlookers universally – this writer included. However, the fact that the Knights pushed Bradford so close wasn’t a shock to the team with Cockayne explaining “we knew we were capable of beating them but it just didn’t come off.” When asked about what the mood in the camp was like following the two point reverse, he added that “we moved on swiftly and have got better each week.” 

The last point there is key – it is something James Ford’s York team did throughout last season and have continued this season, becoming not only the first team to beat them in 2018 but to also score a point against them. Despite the baltic conditions in Lancashire that day – and Cockayne admitting that he felt he needed a new pair of hands – the Knights’ performance demonstrated that they “aren’t just a good footballing team but we are a tough team,” further agreeing with coach Ford’s view that there won’t be many teams who go to Oldham and win this season.

The challenging start to the season that the fixture computer threw up for York – which, by the way, will only continue with Sunday’s tough test against Keighley – is something which won’t have fazed Cockayne following his career through all levels of UK rugby league, including a stint in Super League. A ten year period – in two installments – with Hull KR preceeded his off season move to the Knights and, from speaking to him, it is clear that it was something of a straightforward decision. “I didn’t speak to any other clubs and after speaking with the coach and chairman I didn’t need to,” he revealed, further adding that the dual registration link up between York and Hull KR benefited his decision.

He now has another big game in his diary in the white and amber following Sunday’s conquering of Swinton at their impromptu home, York’s reward will be their toughest test of the season so far – Super League’s Catalans Dragons. Cockayne featured for the Knights in an unfamiliar half back role against Swinton, one he is unlikely to fulfil against the Dragons but, barring a further installment of the Beast from the East, Bootham Crescent will be hosting another big match. Reacting to the draw, Cockayne backed the club and his team mates to “give a good account of ourselves,” admitting, however, that “they won’t bring many fans so I think the club itself will miss out massively on a financial front.” It’s perhaps a measure of the man – who also runs a successful wine business – that he isn’t just aware of those on the field but also of the bigger picture surrounding the club. Understandably, he is excited about the challenge ahead, admitting that “we get to test ourselves against Super League opposition.”

The season has started impressively for the Knights with strong performances against Bradford and Oldham, teams who will be competing towards the top of the Betfred League 1 table this year, as well as the showing against Swinton. If York can keep up the level of performances they have shown so far and continue their quest for improvement, 2018 could be a memorable year for Cockayne and the Knights.

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