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Yorkshire Carnegie v Doncaster Knights - History beckons as White Rose rivals collide at Headingley

EYES ON PRIZE: Kevin Sinfield, who retires at the end of the season, prepares for Sunday's game agains Doncaster Knights. Picture: Tony Johnson.
EYES ON PRIZE: Kevin Sinfield, who retires at the end of the season, prepares for Sunday's game agains Doncaster Knights. Picture: Tony Johnson.
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The future has dominated the build-up to arguably the biggest game in the history of club rugby in Yorkshire this week.

Doncaster Knights, the unlikely lads of the Premiership promotion race, have announced that should their improbable run end in glory, they would be eligible to take their place among the game’s elite.

Yorkshire Carnegie coach Bryan Redpath chats with assistant James Lowes during a training session earlier this week.  Picture: Tony Johnson.

Yorkshire Carnegie coach Bryan Redpath chats with assistant James Lowes during a training session earlier this week. Picture: Tony Johnson.

A ground-share with Doncaster Rovers at the Keepmoat Stadium has been agreed upon for the first six games, by which time, the ambitious South Yorkshire club hope to have in place the necessary upgrades at their own Castle Park ground to satisfy the strict entry criteria put in place by rugby authorities.

Yorkshire Carnegie, for their part, have made a raft of signings this week, seven in all, including the return of their fly-half protege Joe Ford, as they continue to make a statement about their ability to attract players they believe can thrive at the top level.

All that before a point has even been scored in the Championship’s promotion play-off semi-final at Headingley tomorrow.

Both White Rose teams stand just four games from a place in the Aviva Premiership, a level that has had no representation from Yorkshire since Carnegie’s third demotion in 2011.

Doncaster Knights coach, Clive Griffiths, during a training session at Castle Park.

Doncaster Knights coach, Clive Griffiths, during a training session at Castle Park.

It is both a damning indictment and a tantalising prospect. For the second time in three years, the county has seen two teams finish in the top four of the second tier, thus enabling them to play-off for the right to join the elite.

Rotherham Titans finished fourth in each of the last two seasons but were ousted at the semi-final stage on both occasions, while Carnegie are back in the promotion mix after a dreadful 2014-15 campaign.

By finishing second and third, respectively, Doncaster and Yorkshire have ensured at least one of the region’s teams will get the chance to play against, in all likelihood Bristol, in the two-legged play-off final later this month.

Given Bristol’s propensity to choke when it matters most – they have lost two play-off finals in succession – the possibility of a Yorkshire team back in the Premiership no longer feels so far-fetched.

From Doncaster’s perspective, this is their ‘Leicester City moment’.

They avoided relegation narrowly last season on their return to the Championship, and have used that as a springboard to challenge the division’s establishment.

“In the context of where we are, it’s one of the biggest games for this club given the prize, which is massive,” said Knights director of rugby Clive Griffiths.

“This is new ground for Doncaster Knights and it’s exciting to be in this position and to be able to challenge a club like Yorkshire Carnegie.

“This is why we’re in the game; coaches, players, staff, for big moments such as these – and we’re looking forward to it.

“We can dream, we’ve got to believe. We’re underdogs at Headingley, and at the end of that 80 minutes we’ll both know what to do.”

On the match itself, Griffiths added: “I think it will be a step up from the Championship. Both teams know what’s at stake further down the track. There’ll be no quarter asked or given.

“We’re going there to play, not park the bus in football terms. I’m sure Yorkshire will be the same.”

Griffiths’s opposite number, Bryan Redpath, has given Kevin Sinfield a starting jersey in what could be the rugby league legend’s final bow at Headingley, unless everything goes to Carnegie’s plan.

“We’re under no illusions, they’re a good side, and beat us deservedly last time we played,” said Redpath.

“We’ve got to focus on the game itself and not worry about what could be and what may come around.

“It is an incentive to play on our own patch first. We’ve got to just focus and make sure our minds are clear.”