Former Wakefield Trinity and Hull KR player Ben Cockayne has returned to rugby league as a coach in a surprise move.
Cockayne, who carved out a reputation for himself as a tough fullback, has rejoined the York City Knights as assistant coach.
Cockayne represented the Knights for two seasons and was part of the League One promotion winning team in 2018 before making eight appearances in the black and amber in the 2019 campaign.
In the June of that year, the former Hull KR and Wakefield Trinity player retired from the sport after picking up an injury that required a knee reconstruction.
After taking up a coaching role with The Robins, 38-year-old Cockayne returned to playing in August last year with Betfred League One’s Doncaster.
On the arrival of Cockayne, Head Coach James Ford said: “I’ve always admired numerous aspects of Ben’s personality and the impact he has on individuals and groups within a team environment.
“He’s a very passionate, driven and committed young man who I’m confident will help us improve in the short medium and long term.
“He was a key figure in driving our standards and intensity in 2018 and 2019 and during this period I always had Ben down for a position on my staff – but he just kept playing!!
“Finally, we get to work together again and I’m truly excited to see what we can achieve with the addition of Ben.
“Ben is fondly remembered by everyone at York, specifically for that performance away at Bradford. I’m sure his impact will rub off on everyone at our club and we’ll be a stronger organisation going forwards.”
After agreeing to return to the Knights, Cockayne said: “To be honest, it was an opportunity that came out of the blue a little bit. I obviously knew there was a vacancy after Brett left but I didn’t expect to get the call I did. I’m absolutely delighted to be coming back.
“I basically made my decision when I was on the phone with Fordy.”
Prior to his return to playing with Doncaster, Cockayne’s role at Hull Kingston Rovers saw him working with the team’s under-16s setup. “I think having the experience as a coach is good but coaching adults will be different than coaching kids.
“It’s a new challenge for me and one I’m relishing. I’ve dipped my toe in the water in terms of planning and preparation so that side of things won’t be new. It’s going to be a different experience, dealing with a new group of people and some that I’ve played with.”
Those include not only the Knights’ Class of 2018 and 2019 but the likes of Danny Kirmond (Wakefield Trinity) and captain Chris Clarkson (Hull Kingston Rovers). “I’m looking forward to it and it’s one of them,” Cockayne explained. “I don’t think I’ll be coaching them new things as such and it will be more of a case of being myself around them and building that relationship.
“They know what I was like as a player so will have a good idea of what to expect from me in terms of attitude and standards. When you’re dealing with senior players, it’s more of a case of managing than coaching I think. That’s something I have to figure out along the way, especially with the boys who have played as many games as myself or perhaps even more.
“I think there will be a really strong mutual respect there and I’m looking forward to building that with every one of the squad and staff.”
Discussing the relationship he holds with Ford, Cockayne said: “When I played underneath him, I was so impressed with him as a coach and how he delivers stuff. I was impressed with how he gave responsibility and trust to his senior players and we always had a great relationship when I was playing under him.
“I’ve had a great relationship with him since them as I really respect him not only as a coach but as a bloke as well. I like his honesty, he was never afraid to say what he thinks and I think he’s got a really good understanding of how to deal with different people.
“I’m really excited to work with him. There’s a really strong mutual relationship there and he’s one I’ve always spoken about since in really good terms. I have no doubt that he will push on and become a really top-level coach.”
During his time with the Knights as a player, Cockayne had a strong relationship with the York supporters. “I’m really looking forward to rekindling that and to catching up with some familiar faces,” he shared.
“The fans were phenomenal in the two years when I was there, especially in that promotion season of 2018. The buzz was massive and the relationship between the players and fans was really special.
“I’d like to give a big thanks to Hally, Horney & Plumey at Doncaster for giving me the opportunity last year to lace the boots back up, and more so to be understanding and supportive of my decision to take this role at York.
“It’s been a privilege to play at the club where my career started and give a contribution back before heading into retirement – again! I’ve had a great time and as always with rugby league, I’ve made some more friends and memories with a great bunch of lads and staff all associated with Donny and I’m very grateful.”