Wasps snap up Stephens and Hughes in double swoop.

AMBITIOUS York Wasps have pulled off a double coup by snapping up experienced backs Gareth Stephens and Darren Hughes.

Stephens joins York from Super League side Halifax and will fill the problematic scrum-half role vacated by Darren Callaghan's departure to Hull KR.

It will be the 26-year-old's second spell at York having played there as a youngster under his father, Gary Stephens.

Centre Hughes, also 26, arrives at Huntington Stadium from Hunslet Hawks where, according to York coach Lee Crooks, he was instrumental in most of their better performances last season.

Another centre, Craig Moore, is also re-joining the Wasps, two years after leaving the club. And in further good news for Crooks, wingers Leroy McKenzie and Leigh Deakin and forward Craig Forsyth have agreed new deals to take the number of players signed up to 17.

Stephens, who made one substitute appearance for Wales in 1996, is a major acquisition for York, having played at the top level with Leeds, Castleford, Hull, Sheffield and more recently Halifax, where he has been on loan.

He played most of his games there at hooker but Crooks believes his best position is scrum-half.

"I'm looking for Gareth to take charge of the middle of the park. I think he'll be the first to admit that one of his failing and the reason he hasn't gone further is that he has struggled to get to grips with bossing people about and dominating the game in the middle and I think coming down to the NFP will help him get that exprerience under his belt.

"He still has ambitions to play in Super League and there's no reason why he shouldn't," said Crooks, revealing that Stephens had turned down a couple of other clubs, including a lucrative offer from Rochdale, to join York.

Hughes, formerly of Leeds, Batley and Featherstone, will bolster the three-quarters which was another weakness last season.

Crooks said: "He's a very strong-running centre. He is very direct, plays the game very physically and is a good defensive player.

"We needed to recruit out wide and we have done that. Craig Moore is also experienced and will help us out on the fringes."

The Wasps chief is hopeful of adding to the squad even further over the weekend with the signing of a quality stand-off to replace Mark Cain.

He is also talking to three leading players on the Hull amateur scene and could have them on board by the end of the month.

Players now signed up are Jamie Benn, Max Ryce, Hughes, Moore, Deakin, Stephens, Andy Precious, Alan Pallister, Michael Smith, Andy Hill, Mick Ramsden, Spencer Hargrave, Matt Mulholland, Richie Baxter (trialist), McKenzie, Forsyth and Adam Briggs.

Terms have also been offered to Lea Tichener, Shaun Austerfield, Mick Hagan, Andy Preston and Matt Woodcock. Talks with Paul Darley are on hold until he returns from a holiday in Australia.

Gareth Lloyd is expected to join up to the professional ranks after the Emerging Nations World Championship in which he has been selected to represent Great Britain amateurs.

PICTURE: GRITTY GARETH: Scrum half Gareth Stephens shows the kind of determination that York Wasps' fans can expect next season