New Premiership Rugby Cup venture will trigger memories for Knights fans

It promises to be an exciting start to the season for Doncaster Knights.
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Knights will kick the season off the 2023-24 campaign by playing in the inaugural Premiership Rugby Cup, which features teams from both the Premiership and the Championship.

Although some of the biggest names in the Premiership will be on international duty, there will still be plenty of top players on view.

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I personally think the competition is a great idea and will give Knights an indication of the standards they will need to attain if they were to ever get promoted to the top flight.

Will Hurrell in action for Doncaster Knights against Cornish Pirates.Will Hurrell in action for Doncaster Knights against Cornish Pirates.
Will Hurrell in action for Doncaster Knights against Cornish Pirates.

Knights have been drawn against Bristol and Northampton, both of whom have played league rugby at Castle Park in the recent past, in the group stage.

It was Bristol who broke the hearts of the Doncaster supporters when they beat them over two-legs in the 2015-16 Championship play-offs.

They also tempted strong-running centre Will Hurrell, who had starred in both games, to Ashton Gate.

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The two sides met again two years later following the Bears’ relegation from the top flight with Hurrell in their ranks.

Sadly, the likeable Hurrell was forced to retire from the game in 2020 after suffering a ‘probable stroke’ during a match.

Northampton have only made one visit to Castle Park but it was a memorable one – especially for dual-code international wing Chris Ashton.

The former Wigan RL star scored four tries as the Saints romped to National League One victory in the 2008-09 season as they made an immediate return to the top flight.

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Ashton set a new League One try-scoring record that season when touching down 39 times.

Not only will Knights have a number of new faces in their squad this season, they’ll also have a new coaching team at the helm with both Joe Ford and former fans’ favourite Tyson Lewis being promoted to work under director of rugby Steve Boden.

Ford, whose dad Mike is set to play a leading role as part of a new consortium who have taken over Betfred League One Oldham RLFC, has brought about an improvement in the club’s back division over the last couple of years.

One familiar figure who will be missing at Castle Park next season is Neil Holmes who stepped down as the club’s general manager at the end of last month after 21 years in the job.

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I often came across Neil when covering the Knights and I always found him helpful even though he was always busy on a matchday.

*I’m not saying that they are, but I wouldn’t blame any Doncaster Belles’ stars of the past were they to be a little jealous at the attention – and the money - the current top players are receiving these days.

Players such as Gill Coultard, Karen Walker and Vicky Exley, all regulars in the national team during their playing days, would surely have been in contention for a place in the England team contesting the 2023 women’s World Cup Down Under.

They and their team-mates played for the love of the game during the bulk of their careers, whereas it could be argued that some of their modern-day equivalents are more focused on financial rewards if reports I’ve read are true.

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Coverage of women’s football has soared to unparalleled heights since their success in the Euros – though I personally think all sections of the media have gone overboard when it comes to the Lionesses.

I certainly think it interesting that the success of the men’s team in the recent European U21 championships has not been met with anything like the same euphoria.

However, there is no arguing the fact that the Lionesses have had a massive impact on the current generation of young girls with thousands having taken up the sport in recent months which should help boost the pool of local players available to the Belles going forward.

*I’m pleased to see several Doncaster golf clubs north of the river either offering cheap deals at specific times of the day or offering £10 deals all day once a week.

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Times are tough for a lot of people at the present time and I welcome anything that helps.

The price of a round of golf for non-members at many clubs isn’t cheap and when you also factor in the price of golf equipment and clothing the costs quickly mount up.

The sport needs to attract new blood and initiatives like those above can literally make a world of difference to someone in their late teens or early 20s as to whether they take up the game seriously or look for cheaper options to satisfy their sporting aspirations.

I still enjoy a round of golf once a week but I never knew former Dons’ star Kevin Jones was also a keen golfer until I bumped into him during a round at Owston Hall last week.

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I’m sure that Kev, who I will be featuring in a future column, will have agreed with me that the condition of the Doncaster course, given the heavy rain of the previous few days, was remarkable.

*Very few bowlers can claim to have taken all ten wickets in a cricket match.

Even fewer have done so in their first-ever Premier Division game in their local league. Even fewer have achieved the feat when aged just 15 years of age.

Yet that is what young Sam Bardney, who I remember interviewing at his club’s ground in front of a scoreboard the photographer had rigged up to show 56 runs and ten wickets, did playing in a Doncaster & District Cricket League game for Warmsworth back in the 1980s.

I wonder if he ever came anywhere near repeating the feat.