Season preview: Doncaster Knights return to the Championship

Doncaster Knights 2014/15 - Picture courtesy of Shaun Flannery/
Doncaster Knights 2014/15 - Picture courtesy of Shaun Flannery/

One of several stand-out memories from last season’s National One title triumph was Clive Griffiths’ ‘Jose Mourinho moment’.

The Welshman temporarily lost control. His emotions got the better of him.

Doncaster Knights start their new season on Saturday.

Doncaster Knights start their new season on Saturday.

When Tyson Lewis touched down at Blackheath on the final day of an arduous campaign, confirming Doncaster’s instant return to the Championship, the usually calm and composed Griffiths leapt from his technical area, ran the length of the pitch and jigged with delight in the backdrop of his players’ understandably fervent celebrations.

It was a fantastic moment because it reflected a very collective outpouring of joy, pent up among a squad of players who had battled right to the bitter end to achieve what they set out to do a year ago - get back in the Championship.

On Saturday Doncaster mark their return to the second tier by welcoming Plymouth Albion to Castle Park, the same opponents they faced on the final day of their disastrous 2012/13 relegation campaign.

Griffiths is raring to go, as you would expect after a three-month long pre-season build-up.

This time around his objectives are very different. ‘Consolidation’ and ‘stability’ are the watchwords at Knights.

Doncaster’s director of rugby, who earlier this year signed a two-year contract extension at the club, will be jumping for joy again if Doncaster can re-cement their second tier standing.

Rubbing shoulders with the likes of Worcester, Bristol and the newly-named Yorkshire Carnegie, the task ahead won’t be a simple one. Promoted clubs have a history of struggling in this division.

Last season’s title winning celebrations are now nothing but a mere memory.

“Those memories are firmly in the memory bank now,” said Griffiths, who has ditched his coaching duties at league outfit North Wales Crusaders to concentrate on the Knights.

“It’s over. It’s done and dusted.

“We are looking forward to this new season.

“That day at Blackheath will live long in the memory but now it’s gone and we focus on this season.

“The training has been hard work. It’s been brutal at times, but it’s got to be. We’ve got to step up our standards.

“Everyone has been waiting for the first game and everything we’ve done has been geared to this game on Saturday.

“Our last game in the Championship in 2013 was against Plymouth at Castle Park and a couple of the lads who played for Plymouth that day are in our ranks now [Bevon Armitage and Paul Roberts].

“It’s going to be exciting [in this division].

“It’s what we’ve been striving for, it’s what everyone wanted.

“Everyone was disappointed we went down to National One but we dusted ourselves down and came back firing.

“It’s good to have a home game at the start.

“I’m sure Plymouth will be looking at it as an opportunity to play the new guys on the block and get a win here. But we’ll be equally determined to make sure that we are the victors on the day.

“You need a good start in any league,” he added.

“We said that last year when we won the first six and gained some momentum. It’s going to be the same this season.

“Plymouth have recruited very well, as have we, so it’s going to be a real humdinger on Saturday.”

Knights are looking forward and not back, but Griffiths will hope his side retains the character and hunger they showed to become the first team ever to bounce back to the Championship at the first time of asking.

Griffiths said: “Winning any championship is special but for us to create a bit of history as well was extra special.

“Thirty league games is a lot in a season. We travelled far and wide, faced different weather conditions, different opposition, but every opposition had the same goal - to beat us.

“We were seen as the full time boys. We had a target in the middle of our heads. We were there to be shot at.

“I’ve got to pay tribute to the players for holding their nerve, particularly those last three games. They were not an advert for good rugby but we just had to do everything to win.

“I guess what we achieved was extra sweet because of the long season and the challenges we faced, not just on the rugby field but with injuries as well.

“We overcame that adversity and that is the sign of a good side.

“That’s why you play the game, for days like that at Blackheath. Those who were there will never forget that day. It was another great day in the history of this great rugby club.

“Now our job is to consolidate in the Championship.”