Doncaster RLFC: Cooke targets strength in depth for next season

Paul Cooke takes on the Sheffield backline. Photo: Lesley Pickersgill
Paul Cooke takes on the Sheffield backline. Photo: Lesley Pickersgill

Doncaster player-coach Paul Cooke is targeting more strength-in-depth as he continues his team-building plans for next season.

Having seen the Dons fail to make any impact in the Championship play-offs following Sunday’s 58-24 quarter-final defeat against Sheffield Eagles, as injuries bite deep into his limited resources, Cooke admits the club needed more numbers.

“We want to get a squad with healthy numbers for ourselves and may be have 25, 26 or 27 players available when it comes to the play-offs, whereas we only had one spare player available for the Sheffield game last Sunday,” Cooke told the Free Press.

A good friend of Hull FC coach Lee Radford, Cooke says he felt the dual-registration agreement between the two clubs worked well during the season.

But with only the odd player available in Sunday’s game, and choosing not to use either for different reasons, Cooke wants to put together a squad which can compete more in its own right.

“We are not quite there where we can say ‘no’ to dual reg because of the quality of players we missed (through injuries). Without the Hull players, we probably wouldn’t have won some games that we did,” Cooke said.

Although Cooke sung the praises of his squad as a whole, he hinted that several needed to ‘raise the bar’ in terms of attitude and professionalism if they want to remain in his plans.

“They know who they are and they know what they’ve got to do,” he said.

“At times this season we’ve had to play players because there’s been no-one else. We need to get to a position where we have enough quality to tell them that if they can’t do what we are asking then go find somewhere else to play.”

Cooke, who intends to continue to play on next season, says he will benefit from having had a year’s experience in the role.

“I’ve learnt a lot. It’s more a man-management thing. I think I’ve played, and been around long enough, to know what to look for in the opposition and how to try and stop things they do,” added Cooke.

“But we can still improve as a staff and the players can still improve.”

* Centre Liam Cunningham has submitted an Early Guilty Plea after being charged with a Grade B offence after striking Sheffield Eagles player Michael Knowles with his knees in Sunday’s Championship play-offs defeat, it has been confirmed.

A spokesman for the Rugby Football League confirmed Cunningham - who was sent off following the incident during Doncaster’s 58-24 defeat to Sheffield - entered his plea on Tuesday.

He added that Cunningham will now face a one-game suspension next season.