Analysis: Promotion-chasing Doncaster RLFC can make it third time lucky

Richard Horne. Photo: Rob Terrace
Richard Horne. Photo: Rob Terrace

Whatever the sport there is generally always an air of optimism at every club at the start of a season.

Depending on the circumstances much of that optimism can quickly fade and more realistic targets set.

Doncaster RLFC have also endured their fair share of false dawns in the 40-odd years that I have reported on them.

There was no shortage of optimism at the club this time last year yet, sadly, they did not even make the League One play-offs due to a disappointing Super 8s campaign.

The fact that they had three head coaches, albeit one a temporary appointment, during the season didn’t help.

Nor did the fact that play-maker Jordan Howden missed virtually the whole campaign and powerhouse prop Feka Paleaaesina wasn’t able to make his expected impact on a regular basis due to injuries which led to him hanging up his boots with another year left on his contract.

Although head coach Richard Horne was undoubtedly disappointed with how things turned out it was always going to be difficult for him taking over in mid-season.

Having played at the top level with Hull FC all his career, Horne’s knowledge of League One may not have compared with Gary Thornton who started the season in charge and was unlucky to be sacked in my view.

He will start the 2018 campaign better informed but would still be well advised to take the views of people like No 2 Pete Green on board.

Horne may well have got some things wrong, as all coaches do in their first job, but he comes across as someone who is both a quick learner and someone who will learn from his mistakes.

He is also ambitious and will demand the same professional attitude demanded by Hull FC even though his charges are only part-time.

The club seem to have recruited well and look to have a more balanced squad in terms of age than last season.

And the fact that Horne is a key member of the club’s coaching staff should ensure the Dons do well out of the dual-registration arrangement with the Super League giants.

Certainly everyone at the Dons will be hoping to see plenty of Hull’s French international back Hakim Miloudi in action this season. He is a match-winner at this level.

This will be the club’s third season in League One and fans - who need to turn out in much greater numbers this season for what is still a decent standard of rugby - will begin to lose faith if they don’t go up.

Yet, it doesn’t get any easier with a handful of clubs including relegated Bradford Bulls and Oldham and leading League One clubs from last year such as York, Workington, Whitehaven, Keighley and Newcastle all posing a serious challenge to Doncaster’s hopes.

Possibly top spot, which carries automatic promotion, is beyond the Dons.

But given a level playing field in terms of injuries – especially to key players – I would expect them to finish in a play-off spot (2-5) and from there it is all to play for.

If that were to happen who is to say that it wouldn’t be a case of third time lucky for the Dons?