NOBODY will give part-timers Doncaster a chance in tonight’s Challenge Cup tie at Leeds Rhinos but, according to a man who endured such bad luck in the famous competition, the experience alone is invaluable.
Kiwi Carl Hall is chief executive at the League 1 club, where he also played two spells, getting his first taste of the English game there in 1989 and again after stints with Hull KR, Bradford Northern and this evening’s opponents Leeds.
It’s a great tie for us. Financially, it’s good for the club but it is more about the experience the players will get playing at Headingley in that atmosphere on Friday. Everyone in the last draw would have wanted Leeds Rhinos.Carl Hall
Doncaster are huge underdogs to stun the Super League giants who are in fine form, having beaten Hull FC and Widnes Vikings over Easter, winning six of their last seven games.
However, Hall believes it may be just the fillip they need after their three-game winning start to League 1 was brutally ended by an 82-6 home mauling by title favourites Toronto Wolfpack and then a more surprising 16-8 defeat at York City Knights.
“It’s a great tie for us,” Hall told The Yorkshire Post. “Financially, it’s good for the club but it is more about the experience the players will get playing at Headingley in that atmosphere on Friday. Everyone in the last draw would have wanted Leeds Rhinos.
“A League 1 club is never going to go on and win at Wembley or get to the final but this gives the fans a night out and the squad a game they won’t forget.
“We’re all looking forward to it. We’ll go there and try and play and it’s probably come at a good time for us, too.
“We got put back a peg or two with the Toronto game and went to York with a bit of a hangover.
“We should still have done a lot better at York but if some of our players can show up well at Headingley – get some confidence from this – it will give them a lift going into our next league game.”
Hall, 47, played 18 games for Leeds after joining in the 1995-96 season. “There was Dean Bell, Kevin Iro – all the Kiwi boys – along with Schoey (Garry Schofield), Alan Tait, Harvey Howard, Jimmy Lowes...” he recalled.
“Ellery (Hanley) had just left. But when I was at Bradford, Leeds knocked us out of the Challenge Cup semis two years running.
“Then I went to Leeds and Bradford got to Wembley two years running!
“Leeds is a great club, though, and, on the administration side, when I first came back and was working as director of rugby at Doncaster the first person I met was Gary (Hetherington).
“I spoke to him regularly when I owned the club and if I had any doubts or any questions he was always on the end of the phone.”
During his time with Doncaster, in various roles, Hall has proved so integral to keeping the club vibrant, none more so than now as they seek to force their way back into the Championship.
With Makali Aizue, Feka Paleaaesina, Richie Barnett and Jamie Thackray, they have plenty of Super League talent.
“We’ve not sat on the fence; we’ve said we want to get promotion and that is the goal for this year,” added Hall, who also has former Leeds academy products Aaron Jones-Bishop – brother of Wakefield Trinity winger Ben –and Mason Tonks in the squad.
“We’ve been a League 1 club for two years now. The quicker we can get out of it the better.
“This club can flourish and I’m sure if we get into the Championship we will fly.”
Former Great Britain prop Thackray will not feature tonight, however, after the charismatic forward received a five- game ban for abusing match officials. That is a major setback for Doncaster in the Ladbrokes-sponsored event given the vast experience of the Leeds-born 37-year-old who joined from London Broncos in November and played with Rhinos in 2006 and 2007.
Hall admitted: “He’s got to be better than what he was charged for. You can’t go mouthing off at refs and touch judges. It’s not something we can condone.
“It’s poor whether it’s out of frustration or not. We brought him here for his experience. He is what he is – everyone knows Jamie is a character – but we brought him here to lead the way.
“Playing-wise he’s done okay. He was really looking forward to going back to Headingley.
“One of the first people to text me after the draw was Jamie and he was telling the boys all about his time at Leeds and winning the Challenge Cup (with Hull). This is a harsh lesson for him to learn.”