Review of the Year: Why Dons, Knights and Belles 'must do better' in 2020
For our final edition of 2019 we have taken a look back at the fortunes of Doncaster’s leading teams over the last 12 months.
And for Doncaster RLFC, Doncaster Knights and Doncaster Rovers Belles, the year has been far from memorable.
Heading into 2020, the end of year report card for each club simply reads ‘must do better’.
Doncaster RLFC again flattered to deceive in 2019 and will spend at least another season in Betfred League One.
Despite finishing the regular season – during which they inflicted promoted Oldham’s biggest defeat - in fourth spot they failed to successfully navigate the new-look promotion play-off system and crashed to a heavy defeat in their semi-final clash against Newcastle at Kingston Park.
Next season will be the club’s fifth successive season in the third tier after being relegated from the Championship in 2015.
They acquitted themselves well in both the Challenge Cup and the inaugural 1895 Cup – only a last-minute try denying them a semi-final spot in the latter - and were the last League One club standing in both competitions.
The Dons stunned the rugby league world in mid-season when announcing that they had signed former England international and Super League star Rangi Chase after he had completed a two-year drugs ban.
Although lacking fitness Chase showed enough to earn himself a new deal.
PNG international Watson Boas also joined the Dons on loan and, once he had settled in, proved a match-winner on more than one occasion.
Winger Sam Doherty proved himself one of the best finishers in the league when topping the club’s try-scoring chart.
Doncaster Knights have found themselves in the wrong half of the Championship table for most of 2019.
The end of last season, which saw Knights finish tenth, also saw the departure of several fans’ favourites including Mat Clark, Paul Jarvis and Richard List.
And with coaches Paul Cooke and Glen Kenworthy also moving on Steve Boden and Francis Cummins returned to work under director of rugby Clive Griffiths in what is expected to be his last season in charge.
Hopes of a change in fortunes were high during the summer as Knights brought in the likes of highly-rated Yorkshire Carnegie duo Pete Lucock and Matt Smith, wing Kyle Evans and Cam Cowell to boost their squad.
But rather than having a selection headache due to the level of competition the coaching staff have often had to play forwards out of position during an injury crisis as bad as any in the club’s history.
Tongan international Kurt Morarth returned home without playing a game and Lucock was ruled out for the season even earlier.
Young back-rower Sam Jones and second-rower Tom Hicks have hardly played.
Knights’ failure to make their hoped-for impact can’t all be blamed on injuries or suspensions. There have been far too many unforced errors, a lack of cutting edge at times and a lack of consistency from key players.
But recent displays have given hope for the second half of the season.
Having dropped out of the limelight, this year was meant to be the start of a bright new era for Doncaster Rovers Belles.
Club Doncaster’s protracted takeover was finally completed in the summer with the Belles arguably at their lowest ever ebb – just relegated into the fourth tier of the women’s game.
The only way was up. There was talk of a push for promotion. But things have not gone to plan, with FAWNL Division One Midlands proving to be another stiff learning curve for Zoey Shaw’s young team – a squad unrecognisable from the one that won the FAWSL2 title as recently as 2018.
Following relegation from the FAWNL Northern Premier DIvision, the downward trajectory has continued with seven out of ten league games ending in defeat this season, leading to speculation about Shaw’s future.
Club Doncaster’s long term aim is to get the Belles back into the FA Women’s Championship but that looks a long, long way off and the club’s slide must be arrested in 2020.