Talking Sport Now & Then: Dons hope to blow Hurricanes off course on road to Wembley

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Doncaster RLFC will again have two chances of making it to Wembley this season.

By far their best chance of gracing the twin towers for the first time in their history comes in the restructured 1895 AB Sundecks Cup limited to teams outside of Super League which kicks-off this weekend.

The winners of the seven three-team groups will go through to the quarter-final with the best runner-up completing the line-up.

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The Dons are paired with Betfred League One side Midlands Hurricanes, who they visit on Sunday prior to entertaining fellow Championship side Sheffield Eagles.

Luke Briscoe scores for the Dons in their friendly defeat to Hull FC. Picture: Howard Roe/AHPIX.comLuke Briscoe scores for the Dons in their friendly defeat to Hull FC. Picture: Howard Roe/
Luke Briscoe scores for the Dons in their friendly defeat to Hull FC. Picture: Howard Roe/

The Birmingham-based Hurricanes produced one of the shocks of last season when becoming the only side to beat the Dons at home and doing it in some style.

“We were off that day and they were really great,” said assistant coach Chris Plume. “We are going there to win a game and because we don’t know too much about them this season - they could be fantastic or they could be poor - we’ve just concentrated on ourselves.

“Mark Dunning (ex Bradford Bulls) has taken over and he’s made a few changes and he’ll have them as good as they can be at this early part of the season. They’ll get better (after playing some games) as we will do.

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“We’ll probably need to win both games and that is the plan and we are looking forward to the local derby against Sheffield, who we also play again in the league (for the first time in eight years) the following weekend.”

With competition for places in the starting line-up is intense, Plume expects the Dons to build on their pre-season game against Hull FC.

“Everyone is working hard in training and putting their hands up to play and that’s a good position to be in,” he said. “We probably won’t know our best starting side going forward for four or five weeks.”

*Watching snooker player Ronnie O’Sullivan win the recent Masters in London was mesmerising at times. When he is in full flow he makes the game look ridiculously easy, which it is not.

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It is not only his amazing skills which continue to impress me but the speed at which he plays the game. He can often win a frame in one visit in the time it took some of the slower players in the late 70s and early 80s to play a couple of shots.

I know some people feel that snooker isn’t a proper sport compared to such as football, cricket, athletics, rugby, tennis etc and that top players shouldn’t come into contention for the likes of BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year award.

But it is not an argument that I agree with and there aren’t many sportsmen/women who have dominated their sport for as long as O’Sullivan and if there is any justice in this world he will lift the trophy before he retires. Not that I suspect he will lose any sleep over it.

I got a taste of how good not only the top players were at the time but also the many promising youngsters coming through when playing a frame against young Doncaster prospect Mark Rowing around 1980 as part of a feature I was doing about him at the time. He blew me off the table!

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*Lionesses’ star Mary Earps, who has links with Doncaster Rovers Belles, received a cheer from the audience when mentioning the connection when talking to Bradley Walsh prior to taking on the chasers in a celebrity version of Beat The Chasers.

To be honest I’d forgotten that she played for the club at the start of her career despite having several conversations about her, and other players who have gone on to play for England, with the then manager John Buckley

*As I expected Ricky Hatton suffered a first round knockout in ITV’s Dancing on Ice at the weekend.

I liked Ricky as a boxer, until he started to pile on weight towards the back end of his career, and he came across well in an interview I did with him when he was world champion.

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I was unable to meet him on a visit to Doncaster but arranged to ring him at a mutually convenient time later that evening and not only was he on the other end of the phone when I rang but he was most generous with his time and answered all my questions in his natural easy-going manner.

*It seems that barely a week goes by these days without the death of a famous sportsman being announced.

I was particularly sorry to learn that legendary Welsh RU full-back JPR Williams had passed away.

Williams, along with Scottish star Andy Irvine, were two of the most attack-minded full-backs in the game at a time when a lot of their counterparts were just content to boot the ball downfield or put it up in the air.

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Although I mainly played centre (my preferred position) or wing during my days at Castleford RUFC, whenever I played full-back they were the two players I always tried to emulate.

I was also saddened to hear that former England football boss Sven Goran Eriksson is living on borrowed time. I got to ask him a few questions in the post-match following Doncaster Rovers’ Championship game at the King Power Stadium and he was far more pleasant than a lot of English managers I came across. A year or so later I passed him on the staircase at Meadow Lane, where he worked for a few months as director of football for Notts County, when I was covering a Nottingham-Doncaster Knights Championship game on a Friday night at the venue and he seemed to remember me when smiling and saying ‘hello’.​​​​