Doncaster RLFC: A closer look at the League One promotion race - and who the Dons could face in the play-offs
Doncaster RLFC held on to fourth spot in the Betfred League One table thanks to leaders Whitehaven beating Hunslet in the only game of the weekend.
But they could find themselves down in fifth if the Leeds club beat visiting North Wales Crusaders at home this weekend when they are again without a game.
The Dons should have a clearer picture of their prospects of qualifying for the play-offs, and their likely finishing position if they do, after this weekend’s games which also sees London Skolars entertain Oldham, Newcastle visit West Wales Raiders and Whitehaven entertain Workington Town.
Should Oldham beat Skolars, now down to seventh after holding down second spot early last month, then the Dons would secure a play-off spot were they to avenge their defeat in the capital the following week in their first game at the Keepmoat Stadium in over two months.
If that were to happen the Dons would immediately turn their attention in their remaining three games to finishing as high in the table as they could in order to give themselves the easiest route possible to the play-off final in early October.
Looking at the remaining fixtures and trying to predict the results of the games involving the top seven teams - not an easy task given that there are a number of four-pointers which could go either way - it looks like being a fight between the Dons, Oldham and Hunslet for third spot with the distinct possibility of points difference proving crucial.
Fortunately for the Dons they have significantly improved their points difference over the last month or so after posting several big scores.
They have also kept clean sheets in successive away games and now boast the best defensive record in League One.
I think those three teams will pull away from Workington, who, if my predictions prove correct, will have to settle for the final qualifying spot in the five-way play-off series.
That would see them travel to face the team which finished fifth throwing up the possibility that they could tackle the Dons at the Keepmoat Stadium in the elimination round.
Doncaster fans won’t need reminding that it was Town, who they again will meet in their final league game of the season up at Derwent Park, who dashed the club’s promotion hopes in last season’s play-offs at the Keepmoat Stadium.
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Having run Bradford Bulls close in the play-off final Town had been expected to be challenging for the title.
But it has been Whitehaven who have flown the flag for Cumbria throughout the season and, barring some unlikely results during the run-in, look set to claim top spot and the automatic promotion spot up for grabs with Newcastle having to settle for the runners-up spot.
But by means of consolation they would be at home in all their play-off games, including the final, should they get that far.
Depending on where they finish - and head coach Richard Horne has set his charges a target of eight points from their remaining four games - the Dons could face having to beat several of the sides likely to be above them on Sunday night if they are to win their way to the Championship via the play-offs.
Any such game would be too close to call. But one thing in the Dons’ favour is that they have beaten Newcastle, Oldham and Hunslet on their travels this season in either the league or the 1895 Cup.
As well as looking to win all four remaining games, Horne will also be keeping his fingers crossed that all his key players avoid an injury that would rule them out of any of the play-off games during the run-in.
He will also be looking to welcome back the likes of Watson Boas, Jordan Howden and Frankie Mariano, yet to play this season, as well as see Rangi Chase boost his match fitness following his two-year break from the game.
The former England international has been putting in the hours over the last ten days or so in a bid improve his fitness and the club’s coaching staff are eagerly looking forward to his first appearance at the Keepmoat on Sunday week.
The hope is that Chase, who has proved a handful for the best of teams during his career with his ball skills and clever footwork, will be firing on all cylinders by the time the play-offs get underway in mid-September.