Doncaster Knights v Bristol: Knights exploring their options in the event of promotion

Doncaster Knights t' head coach, Clive Griffiths.
Doncaster Knights t' head coach, Clive Griffiths.
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THE matter will not be decided on the field for around another two months but Doncaster Knights are not standing idle – they are preparing to be a Premiership club.

It seems a farcical statement; less than two years ago they were operating in the relative abyss of National One, where they nearly returned again during a difficult Championship campaign last term.

Doncaster Knights chief executive David Ryall. Picture: Liz Mockler.

Doncaster Knights chief executive David Ryall. Picture: Liz Mockler.

However, that was then. Tomorrow second-placed Doncaster, on the back of a 12-game unbeaten league run, host leaders Bristol in a fascinating game that has drawn the Sky Sports cameras once more.

A home victory could narrow the gap to as little as five points with a further three games still to play yet the real prize, of course, is not finishing first.

The top-four play-offs decide who wins the title and, in theory, who earns the chance to be promoted to the elite.

In-form Doncaster have already confirmed their place in that finale.

All of which has meant the South Yorkshire club, who have never operated at the top table, have needed to ready themselves for that possibility.

To meet the strict Premiership criteria for entry, they have explored a whole range of potential developments, not least raising the capacity of their modern and atmospheric Castle Park home.

“Now that we are numerically assured of making the play-offs it is certainly in our mind’s eye; it’s an eventuality that is being discussed,” Knights chief executive David Ryall told The Yorkshire Post.

“We’re following suit with the other three or possibly four clubs who are potentially in the mix.

“We are going through this process which is a pretty challenging one for clubs the size of ours to take on what are fairly exhaustive requirements set by the RFU and Premier Rugby.

“We’re doing our best and working towards the next deadline.

“It’s challenging for two reasons. Firstly, you have to have the ability to change from the very small squad we have, in comparison to some other clubs, to a large playing squad in a very short period of time.

“Secondly, there’s the sheer weight of work we’d need to complete in an equally short period of time to take Castle Park to the standards in terms of capacity and facilities required to operate at Premiership level.

“The capacity you need is 10,000 which is twice what we are now.

“The matrix of what percentage needs to be seated and covered etcetera takes up half of the wall in my office but we are trying to work our way through that.

“And we’ve had some interesting meetings with companies that make this sort of provision.”

Where Doncaster are well-placed to make that transition is that they are “fortunate” to have the financial clout of two major supporters – club president Tony de Mulder and his long-time friend Steve Lloyd – should they defy the odds and go on to win the Championship.

Granted, prestigious Bristol, who have spent a fortune over the last six years trying to return to the Premiership, remain favourites to see off Doncaster or whoever they face in the play-offs, Yorkshire Carnegie and Bedford Blues likely to make up the four.

However, the West Country club have infamously failed in the play-offs in each of the last four seasons.

Furthermore, Doncaster certainly do not fear them having been one of only two teams to defeat Andy Robinson’s star-studded side this season when prospering 39-27 at Ashton Gate in November.

“I don’t know if we want to avoid Bristol or Bristol want to avoid us,” admitted Ryall, when contemplating the play-off semi-finals, where first play fourth and second meets third.

“The last two times we have played them – in the league at their place and here last season in the B&I Cup semi-final – Doncaster have come out on top.

“We’d still like to creep up on Bristol at the top depending on other results going against them.

“Or, if not, we’d look to retain the second position we are currently in. That is our target.”

For Ryall, though, whatever happens in the weeks ahead, the 2015-16 campaign in which Doncaster have played with verve, panache and character, will always be remembered fondly.

“It is certainly easier being at the top of the tree looking down,” conceded the former Robin Hood Doncaster Airport managing director. “Life takes on a far more comfortable feeling.

“However, being near the top brings its own challenges and expectations grow even more so as the season goes on and that brings its own pressures.

“But across the club, whether the supporters, backroom staff, players, whoever, we are enjoying it immensely.”