Doncaster Knights daring to dream of promotion to Premiership
It is understandable why some Doncaster Knights fans are beginning to feel promotion to the Premiership might not be such a dream after all.
Knights sit top of the Championship – always a good starting point for this matter – at the turn of the year and are in excellent form.
Admittedly, the table may be a little skewed given promotion favourites Ealing Trailfinders, with whom they are level on points, have two games in hand over them as they come into the second half of the campaign.
It is no surprise, then, the heavily-backed London outfit remain favourites to claim pole position when the competition reaches its conclusion on March 19.
Moreover, Cornish Pirates, down in fourth but just three points adrift of the summit, also have a couple of fixtures to catch-up while Jersey Reds, in third, have one game in hand.
Nevertheless, although the expression possession is nine-tenths of the law perhaps does not fully sit correctly here, by being top in January, Doncaster are clearly in an enviable position.
“The league table glosses it up a little as teams do have games in hand on us but we do have to play those teams,” said head coach Steve Boden, with their next fixture being a potentially crucial trip to Jersey on Saturday.
“For us to finish top, we will have to have an extremely good run of form into the new year and see some other results go our way.
“But we’ve won eight of our last nine. We don’t concentrate on things like that but that is what’s happened. And we’ve had some great results which is testament to the lads and staff.”
Although they memorably beat Ealing 22-5 at Castle Park in November, Boden – who has assembled a squad with an average age of just 24 – feels the 39-19 Boxing Day win at bottom-spot London Scottish was one of the best.
He explained: “There were a lot of unknowns about that – is it on, is it off? They had Covid cases and tried to cancel the game two or three times.
“We had lads who drove from Wrexham to London on the day of the game – Boxing Day – to play and to come away with a five-point win was a hell of a result.”
One of them was hooker George Roberts and Boden said: “A lot of clubs go about it a different way but I wanted the lads to go home for Christmas.
“I think that’s important. I wanted them to have a Christmas with their families as with all the Covid stuff, they’re away from their families too much as it is.
“And I think because of that you get a little bit more back from them more often.
“They knew the situation they were facing – a long drive on the day of the game – but they ripped in and got five points away from home which is great.”
Doncaster, who have won nine of their 12 games, realise completing the double over Jersey will go a long way towards setting themselves up for that final push.
“We beat them at home and last season, too, but it’s a different ball game going to the island,” said Boden, who guided Doncaster to third spot last year in his first campaign in charge.
“The conditions are usually tricky over there but one thing this group has proven is there’s no lack of want.
“It is a huge game. If we win then brilliant. But giving a good account of ourselves is the main thing; we’ve tried to do that all year.
"We had a supporters’ evening recently and people saw we’re top of the league and they started talking about promotion.
“I’m not saying for one second that I don’t want to be in that situation – of course I do – but what’s got us to this point so far is just working hard, enjoying turning up to work and making sure every time we go out on the field, win or lose, that we show that we care.
“If we do those things, for me, that’d beat promotion anyway as that is what we set out to achieve all the time.”
February 26 could be a big date for the promotion agenda: Doncaster head to Ealing – denied promotion in last season’s final by Saracens – on the same day as Cornish, the only other team to beat Ealing, host Jersey.
“It will be a big one – dependent on how results go up to that,” added Boden, whose main priority since taking charge has been instilling pride back in the shirt.
“We’ve just got to keep ticking them off and performing.
"It’s hard for me to talk about it [promotion] as I don’t want to sound like I’m playing it down or being negative.
"Of course we want to win the league – that’s why we’re in the sport – but we’ve had a lot of budget constraints, we have a young group together and it’s probably trying to keep this group together which is the biggest thing we’ll look to achieve.
“It’s getting harder and harder as the more success you have, the more people want to get them away from our club and offer them more money.
"We’ve two or three clubs sniffing around our players already and that’s testament to what they have done.”
Crucially, Doncaster have started picking up bonus points and four of their five have come in their last four games.
Boden maintained: “We’re not in a position to be greedy. We’re in a position where we need to keep performing.
"If we can do that, and try and better what we did in the first half of this season, then it will be one of best seasons Doncaster has ever had, regardless of where we finish.”