Steve Hossack: New Dons boss Richard Horne has tools to mount serious promotion challenge

Photo: Rob Terrace
Photo: Rob Terrace

The last man to take charge of Doncaster RLFC mid-season faced a much tougher task than newly-appointed head coach Richard Horne.

Gary Thornton, who parted company with the Dons early last month after a mixed start to the campaign, faced a near-impossible job to keep the club in the Championship after replacing Paul Cooke – ironically a former Hull FC team-mate of Horne – in 2015.

The 35-year-old half-back takes over a team well-placed to mount a serious challenge to get back to the Championship at the second attempt, thanks in part to Thornton putting together a much stronger squad than last year when injuries exposed a chronic lack of depth in key positions.

Horne lacks Thornton’s coaching experience but the fact that he played over 400 games for Hull FC in the top flight means that he will not find it hard to command respect.

He will also benefit from the input of assistant coaches Pete Green and Rhys Lovegrove, who did such a magnificent job during their time in temporary command, as well as a loyal backroom team.

Horne’s first target will be a top four spot at the end of the regular season in order to secure four home games in the Super 8s.

Although no-one at the club should take any side for granted the Dons will go into four of their five remaining games as favourites. Only second-placed Whitehaven, who the Dons visit on Sunday, should pose them problems.

Being unbeaten in their last five games they will not lack confidence. And a win on Sunday would not only serve to close the gap on the Cumbrians – an important factor given that league points are carried forward to the Super 8s – but also boost confidence ahead of any future meeting during the business end of the season.

Even if the Dons come away empty-handed from Cumbria they will still be well fancied to finish in the top four given the respective run-ins.

With key players set to return over the next fortnight or so, Horne will be spoilt for choice in a number of key areas. Not only will that help keep players on their toes but it will enable Horne to ring the changes if he deems necessary.

Horne has gone on record as saying he will not look to make major changes this season.

He has, however, already identified several aspects of the Dons game he feels need improving and if he can bring about the hoped-for improvement, and avoid an injury crisis, he could be in with a very strong chance of winning promotion at the first attempt.