BACK TO THE FUTURE: Doncaster Knights turned a corner in 2013 - but promotion this year is no gimme

Doncaster Knights head into 2014 on top of National One.
Doncaster Knights head into 2014 on top of National One.

Clive Griffiths may have failed to prevent Doncaster Knights from suffering their first ever relegation in 2013 but he is half way to securing an instant return to the Championship.

And central to that promotion challenge will be the new sense of togetherness and team spirit that has driven Doncaster to the top of National One - along with a bit of luck for good measure.

Sadly that newfound spirit was nowhere to be seen this time last year.

Despite Griffiths’ appointment, which chief executive David Ryall later admitted came too late following a wretched run under previous director of rugby Brett Davey, Knights lost ten out of 11 games after the turn of the year and inevitably dropped into National One.

The re-building job was unsurprisingly a big one, although Griffiths was careful not to dismantle a spine of experienced local lads who understand the Castle Park culture.

The evolution of offering several players two-year deals was also a positive step in at least trying to encourage loyalty and avoiding the massive summer squad overhauls which have ruined any chance of continuity over recent seasons. Doncaster was in danger of simply becoming a stepping stone to a more lucrative contract elsewhere.

But around the likes of local lads Matt Challinor, Chris Hallam and Tom Davies, Griffiths assembled plenty of players with both the nouse and ability to get out of this division at the first time of asking.

Centre Mat Clark, back row Phil Eggleshaw and winger Paul Jarvis have been particularly impressive.

But despite sitting on top of National One at the half-way stage, promotion is by no means a gimme.

A one hundred per cent home record is credit to Doncaster’s professionalism and extra fitness, although very few of the nine wins recorded at the Castle have been achieved with the flair and fluency that Griffiths would have wished for. It’s been more business-like and bruising, often grinding down the opposition.

While away from home Knights have been susceptible to sides that have raised their game against the only full time team in the division.

Defeats at Henley, Blaydon and Wharfedale suggest Doncaster have their work cut out when they go to high flying Rosslyn Park, Esher, Coventry and Fylde during the second half of the campaign.

Should they suffer three more defeats on their travels, that promotion spot could well slip from their grasp.

Knights clearly turned a corner in 2013.

They’ve learned how to win again.

But for Doncaster to achieve their new year wish of bouncing straight back to the Championship - a feat not managed by any other club since the second division was rebranded in 2009 - they need to raise their standards yet again.

A bit more luck with injuries, which have played havoc this season, would not go amiss either.