Doncaster Knights: '˜Excited' Clive Griffiths targets another top four finish
Clive Griffiths knows that Doncaster will have to punch above their weight again this season but the Knights director of rugby's confidence remains undimmed that they can upset the natural order of things.
The Knights have cracked the top four in each of the last two seasons but this time around in the Greene King IPA Championship the play-offs have been removed.
That means that only top spot in the league will get you promotion to the promised land and all signs point to Pat Lam’s Bristol claiming that honour.
With the investment of billionaire Stephen Lansdown and the likes of Steven Luatua and Ian Madigan on the books this season, the West Country outfit are rightly the odds-on favourites for promotion.
But the Knights ran Bristol extremely close two seasons ago in the two-legged play-off final and will start the new season fearing no-one according to Griffiths.
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“We have matched (the big boys) in the past – that’s not being brash or anything,” said Griffiths at the Greene King IPA Championship launch at Twickenham last week.
“It’s an immense challenge when you’re playing teams who are perceived to have better players and bigger budgets.
“It’s always a massive challenge for us all, we’re not the only ones who have upset the apple-cart in the past.
“We came very, very close a couple of seasons ago at Ashton Gate – to outscore them five tries to two and then not get promoted in that second game was difficult to take but that’s what it is.
“You always look forward to that and it’s those types of games that I keep telling the players you should want to play in to measure yourself against the best.”
The lack of play-offs this time around does mean that the Knights will have to be on their mettle for the first round of action when they head to Jersey to take on the Reds.
But despite the lack of end of season play-offs, Griffiths’ goal remains to crack the top four.
“I think that if you get in the top four of any league then you’re successful and again that’s got to be the goal,” he said.
“This is a hugely competitive league and a hugely competitive environment we’re in, so on any given Saturday or Sunday anybody can beat anybody else. We’ve got to be on our metal, we’ve got to try and keep everybody healthy – injuries can play a big part for all the teams – but the teams who have got strength in depth will obviously overcome them better. That’s what we’ve got to do, keep our finger on the pulse, week-in week-out and make sure we’re ready for the challenges ahead of us.”
Griffiths’ side have added to their strength in depth this season with the likes of Junior Bulumakau, Tom Hicks and Jack Ram all exciting additions.
And the veteran Knights boss is excited all over again for the new campaign.
“The start of every season is exciting. It’s probably my 150th now, but it doesn’t get less exciting each year, it’s a challenge and that’s what we’re here for,” he joked.
“Pre-season was really more important for the new guys coming in, to see if they can stake a claim to that starting shirt. I wouldn’t have brought them on board if I didn’t think they were good enough to do that but by the same token you’ve got boys there who may well have been starting for us in seasons gone by and hold the shirt, if you like.
“It’s nobody’s shirt by right of course but you don’t forget the standard of play that certain players have put in for you over the years and then it’s a decision to go out with the old in with the new really, so for everyone concerned it’s a new slate, wipe it clean and see how we go.”