Doncaster must negotiate tomorrow’s crucial Championship One elimination play-off without the man tipped to win the competition’s player of the year award.
Ex-Hull FC stand-off Paul Cooke has been integral to their campaign so far and is one of the favourites to take the accolade at the presentation dinner in Leeds on Tuesday night.
However, he has been ruled out of their must-win game against Workington Town after enduring a knee injury in the opening exchanges versus Barrow Raiders last weekend. Barrow – who nudged past the League Leaders Shield winners 22-20 to inflict Doncaster’s first home loss of the year – will meet the victors of tomorrow’s fixture in the Grand Final at Warrington next Sunday.
Cooke hopes to be fit for that date if his colleagues can first overcome another Cumbrian outfit who finished third in the table and head to South Yorkshire having swept past derby rivals Whitehaven 26-2.
“We’ve been the most consistent team all season and we were disappointed to be pipped by the two points last week,” he said.
“We want to make amends for that by taking on Barrow again in the play-off final and ending the season on a high.
“I’m obviously disappointed to be missing out this week but hopefully I can play my part in helping the team in whatever capacity possible to get the win.
“I’ve been at training to give my input and help the player who steps into my position.
“When a player goes off or gets injured everyone has to rally round and we need to work hard,” he said.
All the top four – Barrow finished second with Whitehaven fourth – have secured promotion to the enlarged Championship next season but Cooke maintains that does not take any of the gloss off next weekend’s final.
“Winning the final would mean everything for the players and especially all the people who have been with the club through the tougher times in recent years,” added the former England international, who arrived last winter after 12 months out of the game.
“We’re very disappointed with last week and winning the trophy would be just reward for the excellent season we have had.
“The fans have been brilliant all season right from the first moment I joined the club.
“There is a very loyal and passionate core set of fans and hopefully we can begin to see more faces coming to the games next season as this is a great club with great facilities; ending this season on a high would be a great way to encourage new fans.
“Securing promotion was great for the club.
“But we all know next season is going to be a lot tougher, we’re under no illusions about that.”
Injury denies Cooke the chance to go up against Jamie Thackray, the ex-Great Britain prop who was part of the same Hull FC side that won the 2005 Challenge Cup, and another Airlie Birds colleague Mark Calderwood, the experienced winger whose recent capture has bolstered Workington’s push for silverware.
However, Featherstone Rovers-bound Tom Hodson could return for Tony Miller’s side and their opponents have their own problems with Andrew Morris banned for a dangerous throw against Whitehaven.
He will miss the Grand Final too if Workington do progress while Dan Rooney and Graeme Mattinson are out and top try-scorer Elliott Miller is also doubtful.