LUKE James and Michael Duckworth have been rewarded for their impressive form over the past year with new contracts at Hartlepool United, writes RICHARD MENNEAR.
And their manager Colin Cooper has tipped the pair to play at a higher level, once they have first helped bring success to Pools.
The lengths of contract have not been revealed by the Sky Bet League Two club - who never publicly reveal the length of contracts - but it at least ties their futures to Pools for the foreseeable.
James, in particular, has been heavily linked with a move away from Victoria Park following an impressive 2013-14 campaign which saw him net 16 goals.
Speaking after last night’s 2-0 friendly defeat to Boro, Cooper said the deals are well deserved.
Cooper told SportMail: “It is something that I have been working hard on.
“I offered them both new deals at the end of the season because they both deserve it.
“Michael and Luke were moving into their option and the last thing we want as a football club is to allow players of that calibre to get near the end of their contracts.
“It hasn’t been as smooth as I would have hoped it would but finally we have got them both tied down.
“For Hartlepool, that is great news because they are two players that will, hopefully, give us the opportunity to keep progressing this year and two players, who I firmly believe, can go on to play a lot higher, given the opportunity.
“But we want them to be successful here first.”
Highly rated James said: “I’m over the moon to get the new deal sorted.
“I am just so happy and now so I want to try and concentrate on the season coming up and trying to do as well as I possibly can.
“I’m buzzing to be here and to have signed the deal so now I’m just so looking forward to the season getting started.”
The 19-year-old was Pools’ top marksman last season when he fired 16 goals in all competitions and he went on to win both the Players’ and the Fans’ Player of the Year awards.
Amble-born James has been with Pools since he was just 11.
Right-back Duckworth originally joined Pools on trial from Bradford Park Avenue last pre-season and went on to become one of the success stories of the 2013-14 campaign.
Despite suffering a couple of injury setbacks, the 22-year-old went on to make 36 appearances for the first team and now Cooper has moved to reward him for a fine debut season with a new deal.
Duckworth said: “I’m delighted to get it all sorted out before the season and now I can totally focus on the football.
“The last year has been very good for me to be fair. It is probably gone better than I could have expected but I know that I still have a lot of hard work to do.
“The gaffer told me that if I played well then I would be rewarded and he’s stuck to his word so hopefully now I can have a good season and repay the faith he’s shown in me.”
* POOLS have been handed a bye in the first round of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, a competition in which the vanishing spray used in the World Cup will be tried out during the coming season.
The draw for round one will take place on Saturday, August 16, but Pools will not be involved having been given a bye.
As in previous seasons, the first round will see clubs divided into regional groupings with 16 clubs being awarded byes into round two.