Dons set to launch 2016 season in iPro Sports Cup

Kyle Kesik

Kyle Kesik

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The Dons get their 2016 campaign underway on Sunday when making their debut in the iPro Sport Cup against North Wales Crusaders.

The game is one of two knockout ties - they will be in Challenge Cup action next weekend - prior to their opening League One clash on March 6.

“I’m looking forward to Sunday’s game,” said head coach Gary Thornton .

“It’s a competition we want to do well in but it will also serve as a marker in relation to our league campaign.

“Make no mistake, North Wales will present us with a real challenge and I expect them to be in the top five or six teams next season.”

Thornton, who took in the Hunslet-Keighley friendly at the weekend, caught the Welsh side in action at Batley a couple of weeks ago and came away impressed.

“They have got a big pack, two crafty half-backs and two Welsh internationals out wide so we know we are going to have to play well to beat them,” he said.

Crusaders, who knocked the Dons, then a Championship side, out of the Challenge Cup last season, completed their pre-season campaign with a game against Gloucester at the weekend.

Thornton took his squad over to Hull on Tuesday night where they took on the Super League leaders’ newly-formed reserve side in a semi-contested 3x20 minute work-out.

In addition to helping him decide the odd position where he was still undecided, he used the game to run the rule over a couple of players who could be available this weekend as part of the dual-registration tie-up should stand-off Jordan Howden miss out.

Although the former Castleford half-back hasn’t played, or trained much, since the club’s first friendly, there have been signs of an improvement in the last week or so.

A scan on his hip injury yesterday is unlikely to influence Thornton’s decision as to whether to select him.

“I’ve got other options and it’s likely to be a late decision either way,” said Thornton, who will have skipper Kyle Kesik available for the first time this year.

Strong-running Prop Mark Castle is making good progress after missing the three warm-up games but it is more likely he’ll make his Doncaster debut third time around the following week.

Second-rower Mike Kelly, one of only eight players still at the club from last season, is still ruled out following a knee operation last year.