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Match preview: Doncaster v York City Knights
YORK will go to Doncaster tonight without big-hitting back-row Joe Pickets after he was banned for one match – though three players are back in the reckoning.
Pickets pleaded guilty to a late hit on Hunslet’s Thomas Coyle during the Hawks’ Championship win at Huntington Stadium, which left the half-back needing to be helped from the field.
Fellow back-row Ryan Mallinder comes into the frame after being 12th man for last Thursday’s loss at Workington, while George Elliott and prop Jack Aldous are expected to be fit and hooker Kriss Brining is available again having not travelled to Cumbria due to university exams.
Boss Gary Thornton said it was difficult to predict what form the play-off-chasing Dons will be in.
“From all reports they were poor against Dewsbury last week but it’s hard to predict this division,” he said. “You don’t know what teams will do from one week to the next.
“Doncaster can improve their position if they win and get a home game in the play-offs so they have a lot to play for.
“I can only ask my players to give their all. Everyone knows the importance of this game to us. If we don’t win, we’re down.”
The Knights’ last away victory over professional opposition was at the Dons’ Keepmoat Stadium 18 months ago in a Northern Rail Cup tie.
Thornton said that meant little tonight. “I’m not into omens,” he said. “Whether this club beat them two years ago or last year does not matter. The teams are different, the coaches are different.
“Our away record is abysmal but it would be fantastic to get that win tonight. What a time to turn it around.”
Tonight’s match could be Doncaster coach Tony Miller’s penultimate at the Keepmoat before stepping down at the end of the season – unless his side secure a home game in the play-offs, for which they need victory tonight.
They are likely to be without hooker Kyle Kesik after he broke his nose in the 24-10 defeat to Dewsbury, a performance which prompted Miller to demand improvements.
Miller – whose side need only a bonus point tonight or against Sheffield on Sunday to virtually guarantee a top-eight spot – said: “Unless we dramatically improve we won’t make an impact on the play-offs. We need to hit a bit of form and take confidence into the play-offs.”
Doncaster (possible): from Butterfield, Tuffour, Cowling, Dawson, D Scott, Cooke, Fawcett, Castle, Emmett, Carbutt, Kelly, Spurr, Robinson, Kesik, Trout, Waller, Waterman, Hughes.
Knights: from Carr, Elliott, Dent, Minikin, J Latus, S Latus, Brown, Johnston, Presley, Lee, Brining, Freer, Nicholson, Aldous, Stenchion, Pickles, Smith, Scott, Mallinder, Broughton.
Referee: Dave Merrick (Castleford). Kick-off: 7.30pm.
DONS in focus
Last year: 1st in Championship One.
Coach: Tony Miller.
CAME into the season on a high after beating the odds to lift the club’s first trophies – the Championship One League Leaders Shield and Grand Final silverware – last year.
They lost some top performers in the winter but have still surprised a few since then, the tight-knit squad having picked up enough wins to be on the verge of securing a top-eight spot. A bonus point tonight will virtually guarantee that play-off berth – and a huge fillip for ex-Knights Dennis Tuffour, Brett Waller, Lee Waterman and the experienced Chris Spurr.
One to watch: veteran schemer Paul Cooke – the controversial former Hull and Hull KR star, who is to become player-boss next term – is an inspiration.
Partnership club: Wakefield Trinity Wildcats.
Ground: Keepmoat Stadium.
Miles from York: 44.
Prediction: the promoted Dons have continued on the crest of a wave in this higher tier, not at all swallowed by the surf as some pundits expected.
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