Doncaster RLFC season preview: Richard Horne on pay cuts, potential and pushing for promotion
The majority of Doncaster RLFC’s players have taken pay cuts and moved onto pay-as-you-play terms in order to remain at the club for the 2021 season.
And, ahead of this Sunday’s League One opener at Keighley Cougars, Dons head coach Richard Horne believes the galvanising effect of the coronavirus pandemic – along with a bigger squad – can help the club realise their promotion ambition.
"We asked the players at the beginning when all of this happened to take pay cuts and reduce salaries and they all didn't hesitate to do that,” he told the Free Press.
“That's credit to them. It shows their commitment to the club and what we want to do, where we want to go and the club that we want to be.
"The boys have been great. A big majority of them have gone onto pay-as-you-play without having contracted money so it says a lot about the player, what they want to do and the belief in what this club can do.”
Despite revenue streams taking a huge hit over the last 14 months, Horne will have more bodies available to him than usual this term.
“I've always had a squad of around 22 or 23,” he said. “This year we're up to about 26 or 27 so we've got a big squad.
“We've got some young lads in there that we've given an opportunity to. Joe Fella and Ross Whitmore have come in from Castleford and Huddersfield and they're full of energy. They’re pushing themselves and the older boys that are still here, the likes of Russ Spiers and Ryan Boyle, in that pack area.
“Obviously we've got Misi [Taulapapa] in for experience. So we've got a really good mix of experience, youth and energy.”
Doncaster have lost in the play-offs three times since they were relegated from the Championship in 2015.
“We believe we can get over the line this season,” said Horne.
“We've had two semi-finals in the last two years and just to miss out is frustrating. Both of them probably came down to not having a big enough squad and relying a little bit too much on the dual registration system.
“When it came to that business end not having those players available on dual reg, and only having a small squad, caught up with us. We picked up some injuries and players played with some injuries they probably shouldn't have but they held their hand up.
“We just fell short but this year with a big squad and the quality we've got within the squad we can hopefully go one step further.”
This weekend’s opponents Keighley are among the favourites to secure the one automatic promotion spot but Horne says the competition is ‘wide open’.
“Keighley have spent big money this year,” he said . “What Newcastle did in 2019 they've probably done this year in terms of the players they've brought in.
“Barrow are always going to be big and powerful. Rochdale have recruited really well. Hunslet are always in and around there with us.
“There will be a lot of teams challenging. I thought North Wales were a progressing team and it'll be interesting to see how they go again this year.
“It's wide open for anybody to win the competition. We have to be at our best every week.”
Meet the new arrivals at Doncaster RLFC…
Misi Taulapapa: The vastly experienced Samoan international helped Sheffield Eagles win back-to-back Championship Grand Finals.
Joe Fella: The 20-year-old prop is a product of Castleford Tigers’ academy.
Ben Johnston: Ireland international half back who joined from York and scored 49 tries in 123 games for Halifax.
Liam Johnson: Forward who won promotion from the third tier with Bradford Bulls in 2018.
Ross Whitmore: A 20-year-old forward who graduated from Huddersfield Giants’ academy.
Aaron York: Forward. Started his career at Wakefield Trinity.