Long term planning will deliver success at Doncaster Knights

BUILDING FOR SUCCESS: The new-look Knights continued their preparations with a 53-0 win over Cambridge. Picture: Malcolm Billingham.
BUILDING FOR SUCCESS: The new-look Knights continued their preparations with a 53-0 win over Cambridge. Picture: Malcolm Billingham.
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KNIGHTS president Tony De Mulder is looking to the long term in his attempts to bring Championship success to Castle Park.

This summer has been a turbulent one for the club with two thirds of the squad departing, largely with the lure of more lucrative terms elsewhere.

And after increasing the playing budget to aid Brett Davey’s bid to build a stronger squad, De Mulder is determined to prevent a repeat of this year’s upheaval.

He said: “We’re getting a but more money in funding from the RFU this season and we’re determined to use it well.

“The budget we’ve been able to come up with is very healthy for this level of rugby and we’ve been able to attract high quality players because of that.

“What it has also meant is that we can offer longer contracts which means you can attract the better players.

“Last year we had a lot of lads on one year deals because there was a huge drop in funding and we had to adjust to that.

“Now we’re settled and able to offer longer contracts.”

De Mulder, Davey and chief executive David Ryall have all highlighted a lack of squad depth as the reason for the Knights’ downturn in form in the second half of last season.

Ryall, however, insists this summer’s recruitment strategy was to get the right type of players to Castle Park rather than the right number.

He said: “Getting this squad together was less driven by money and more by recognition of talent, ambition and putting a good unit together.

“This has been the first time Brett has been fully able to put his squad together.

“We weren’t looking for players that could play in only one position.

“We might have 32 players but you can double that number if those players can move around the pitch.

“I think we suffered last season when we ran out of players in certain key positions.

“We’ve got a bit of strength in depth now and all teams need that flexibility.

“The way things play out over the next two years will show how well we’ve invested.”

Davey’s recruitment strategy has seen him put together a side consisting of big and experienced forwards and more youthful backs looking to fulfil their potential.

And De Mulder believes blooding young talent will make for an exciting spectacle at Castle Park as well as helping the Knights develop.

He said: “We’ve always had a very good record and we’re keen to bring players on because that’s what the Championship is all about.

“A lot of young players join because they’re not getting the game time in the Premiership.

“They’re good enough to be at those clubs in the first place but they’re not getting game time because more experienced players stand in their way.

“It’s hard for those young lads to break in and the only way they can get to be seen in the really tough games is in the Championship.

“We offer a fantastic opportunity for these young lads and it’s a fantastic opportunity for us to be able to have exciting and promising talent on our books.”

Both Ryall and De Mulder estimate the club’s budget would put them somewhere in the middle of their 11 Championship rivals.

But both are convinced the Knights could make a successful push for promotion.

De Mulder believes London Welsh’s successful challenge of the bid to block their promotion to the Premiership will open the door up for more teams.

“I think their promotion will mean there will be a renegotiation of the rules because London Welsh drove a bus through them,” he said.

“Once the lawyers got involved they could see the rules weren’t fair.

“It will allow clubs like us to go up without all the rules stopping us.

“I think we’ve got every chance of doing it this season.

“We’ve got to hope so and think so, otherwise what is the point?”

As with Doncaster’s three other professional clubs, the Knights have struggled to pull in supporters in great numbers on a consistent basis.

In a bid to address the issue, the decision was taken to switch the vast majority of the club’s league fixtures to Friday nights for the coming season.

It was a move that proved unpopular with a section of the club’s support but De Mulder believes the doubters have and will be won around.

“It was a very small group of supporters,” he said. “The die hards who are used to Saturday afternoons down at the rugby club.

“But I think now they have realised what it is all about and they’ve changed their opinions.”

Ryall added: “Until we’ve tried it we’re not going to know how successful it will be for us.

“At the last measurement we had sold more season tickets than at the same point last year.

“But the real acid test is from Friday September 7 onwards with that first home game.”