Doncaster RLFC’s longest-serving player Kyle Kesik will kick-off his benefit year this weekend in Sunday’s pre-season friendly against Super League outfit Leeds Rhinos at the Keepmoat Stadium (3pm).
The 29-year-old fans’ favourite will bank the gate receipts, minus expenses, and there will also be a post-match raffle including items provided by the Headingley side. Other fund-raising events are also being planned.
Castleford-born Kesik, who joined the club from South Yorkshire rivals Sheffield Eagles, where he was playing second-team rugby at the time, was given his choice of opponent and was delighted when the Rhinos agreed to send a team over to the Keepmoat during their busy pre-season campaign under new Australian head coach David Furner.
“My dad has supported them all his life and I grew up supporting them which didn’t always go down well at school living in Castleford,” he recalled this week. “I took a bit of stick at the time but they’ve won a lot of trophies over the years so I feel as though I’ve had the last laugh as it were.
“It was one of the highlights of my career when we played them at Headingley a couple of years ago in the Challenge Cup. Every year when the draw was made I hoped that we’d be paired with them but I was starting to get resigned to the fact that it may never happen. Hopefully I’ll get to play against them again in a cup tie before I hang my boots up.”
As well as his current team-mates – who will be hoping for a much closer game than against Hull last weekend – Kesik will be joined by several former team-mates.
The likes of former player-coach Paul Cooke – the backs and skills coach at Doncaster Knights – prop Mark Castle and winger Dean Colton - will all play some part of the game and all were due to train with the squad this week.
“I think the idea is that the current squad will play for the first hour or so and one or two guests will come on during the last 20 minutes,” said Kesik earlier this week.
“I’m not sure what sort of team Leeds will be sending over but it would be nice to see a couple of their big names playing some part on the day.”
Despite the Dons having spent the last three seasons in League One, following relegation from the Championship in 2015, Kesik has no regrets about joining the Dons.
“Doncaster is a good club with great facilities and I’ve been happy here,” he said.
“There has been interest from other clubs at times but I’m not one of those people who always thinks the grass is greener somewhere else. I’ve seen players move on and then not get paid as was the case at Keighley last season. I was also captain for a number of years which also helped.
“As I said at the time, I was disappointed to lose the captaincy last season but my game hasn’t changed: I’m still out there shouting and encouraging the other players.”
Kesik has proved a durable character over the years in one of the toughest of sports, though he admits he’s often played in big games when ‘busted’ to help the team.
“Among the highlights have been winning promotion to the Championship and the two good years we had there – particularly the year we finished fourth after being in with a chance of finishing second until the final few games,” he said.
“It was obviously disappointing to be relegated the following season when we had a lot of injuries. We felt confident that we’d bounce straight back up but that didn’t prove to be the case – though we’ve reached two play-off semi-finals – and League One has proved a lot tougher to get out of than we expected.
“We thought that we’d get up last year, especially when an extra promotion place was made available, and we went into the play-offs in a confident mood on the back of a club-record run of ten successive wins only to lose to Workington.
“Even though we’ve lost the likes of Bradford and York there are still six or seven strong teams so it’s going to be another tough season.
“The likes of Newcastle, who we play in our first league game, have spent a lot of money on players, and they are one of the sides expected to be up there that we play in the first few weeks of the season after which we should have a good idea of our prospects.
“It would be the icing on the cake to finally get promoted back to the Championship in my benefit year. I’d also like to see us do well in the new 1895 Cup (for non-Super League teams) especially with the final being played at Wembley.”