Analysis from Steve Hossack as Doncaster RLFC fail to reach League One play-offs

Richard Horne. Photo: Rob Terrace
Richard Horne. Photo: Rob Terrace

It proved to be a week of contrasting fortunes for the Dons in the final round of League One Super 8s games.

The Dons were rightly proud of their efforts in Saturday's 26-14 defeat against newly-crowned champions Toronto Wolfpack at the Lamport Stadium.

But the mood had changed before they boarded their plane back to the UK with Newcastle’s win at York on Sunday dashing their play-off hopes.

For a club which has set itself a target of bringing Super League rugby to the town in five years, a third season in League One will be a massive disappointment.

Especially as it will appear to some people that they have gone backwards rather than forward over the last 12 months.

The Dons finished fourth last season and reached the play-off semi-final where their depleted side were overpowered by Barrow at Craven Park.

A trip to the same venue would have awaited them this weekend had they held on to fifth spot.

Yet, despite finishing lower than last season – when they suffered far more injuries to key players than this year – the club would have fancied their chances of avenging that defeat.

“We drew with them in the league at the athletics stadium and we only lost by four points up there in the Super 8s and I would have been confident of getting a result up there this weekend and winning the play-offs,” said skipper Kyle Kesik.

“As players we want to be playing in the Championship again.”

Supporters had also been eagerly looking forward to resuming rivalries with the likes of Featherstone, Halifax and Sheffield Eagles.

Many people connected with the club had expected the Dons to bounce back at the first attempt.

The board cannot be accused of not backing the coach and current boss Richard Horne will be hoping that will be the case again next season.

Horne’s record since taking charge might have cost him his job at some clubs.

Certainly those who argued that Gary Thornton was sacked too soon, or would have liked to see Pete Green given the job, will no doubt feel they’ve got a point.

Admittedly things haven’t gone as well as Horne would have liked in his first job as club coach.

But I have heard various people, whose opinions I respect, speak well of Horne as a coach. I’ve also been impressed by his vision for the club and the way he is wanting to play. He also has excellent contacts at Hull FC.

It is never easy for a head coach coming in midway through a season and having to work with players – even if he inherited a good squad as did Horne – that he hasn’t brought in.

There will be a great temptation to make wholesale changes to the squad. For me the jury is still out on that.

What is not in doubt, however, is that the Dons must fare better against the teams they are likely to face at the business end of the season.

Their record of one win and a draw in their seven Super 8s games reflects their league record against the top teams during the season.

Fortunately for Horne, his charges have only just come up short on most occasions.