Why are Doncaster Knights finding it tougher this season and what is their target for 2018?
Just past the half-way point in the season, we took time out with Knights correspondent Steve Hossack to reflect on the season so far.
Knights are currently fifth in the Championship. Is that a fair reflection of the season so far?
SH: Yes, it probably is, though given the fact that Knights have lost or drawn several games at the death they could easily be one or two places higher.
They have dropped to as low as eighth in the table and have lost seven out of their 13 games. Why has this season been more difficult?
SH: Knights have always been difficult to beat at Castle Park over the last two seasons and that has not proved to be the case this season and they’ve suffered several heavy defeats.
Although injuries have cut deep into a squad which is built more on quality than quantity, and affected Knights both in terms of preparation as well as match days, there are several other reasons why Knights have struggled to capture the form of recent seasons.
Key players have not been as consistent as they were the two previous campaigns and there have been too many individual errors – both in attack and defence – at times.
Who has been the most consistent performer so far this season?
SH: I would probably say centre Will Owen.
The former Rotherham man has not had what you would call a regular centre partnership in his debut season at Castle Park due to injury problems affecting the likes of Mat Clark, Lloyd Hayes and Andy Bulumakau.
But he has produced a series of strong-running displays despite having been troubled with a knee problem.
There are no promotion play-offs this season. Do you think this has affected the Championship and/or Knights?
SH: It has probably not helped the competition that only Ealing, who are reputed to have the second biggest budget, are challenging unbeaten Bristol.
I’ve not noticed any less determination to win games or a drop in intensity at any club. But the excitement of battling for a play-off place will be missed by the fans over the coming months and I feel some sort of trophy should have been introduced for the second to fifth-placed clubs.
What is a realistic target for the remainder of the season and what is your prediction?
SH: Knights know their season will be judged on where they finish in the league – though they remain keen to do well in the B&I Cup - but they face a battle to claim a top-four spot for the third campaign in a row.
Given they have to visit the likes of Nottingham, Bedford and Cornish Pirates, who also have their sights on a top-four finish, as well as Bristol, they will need to bank the points at home and look to pick up a couple of wins on the road to stand a chance of realising their hopes.
Fortunately for Knights, four of their remaining games at Castle Park look winnable and they’ll certainly be up for the remaining game against Ealing following their crushing defeat at Vallis Way.
Prediction: Could still finish fourth but will need to win key games against closest rivals to do so. B&I Cup semi-finalists.