Prudent approach gives Doncaster hope of return to big-time

Doncaster's Iafeta Paleaaesina is tackled by Featherstone's Alex Foster and Andy Ellis.
Doncaster's Iafeta Paleaaesina is tackled by Featherstone's Alex Foster and Andy Ellis.
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You would be forgiven for thinking there is only one League One side – those trailblazers called Toronto Wolfpack – with realistic ambitions of soon making the dizzy heights of Super League.

However, on the eve of the competition’s new season, there is one far more familiar name looking to tread the very same path: Doncaster.

It has been more than two decades since the South Yorkshire club graced the top-flight, legendary Audley Pennant and Sonny Whakarau featuring with them in 1994-1995, their solitary campaign which admittedly ended in financial disaster.

Doncaster went into liquidation with £1.4m of debts, their Tattersfield ground was sold for housing development, the Super League era began without them the following year after an aborted merger with Sheffield Eagles and they had to start again in the bottom division.

More than 20 years on, there is a firm belief they can, given time and continued prudence, return to the top table, too.

Granted, they do not have the financial muscle or profile of their Canadian rivals but the capture of former Wigan Warriors and Kiwi prop Iafeta Paleaaesina from Hull FC is certainly a sign of intent at Keepmoat Stadium.

Ahead of tomorrow’s season opener at Coventry Bears, he says there is a positive vibe around Gary Thornton’s squad.

With ex-Great Britain prop Jamie Thackray – who won the Challenge Cup with Hull in 2005 – arriving from London Broncos and veteran former Hull KR front-row Makail Aizue, they certainly do not lack experience in the middle. Paleaaesina, 34, told The Yorkshire Post: “If you put our three ages together we’re older than the club itself!

“Richie Barnett been around the block and played Super League, too, while off the field we’ve Rhys Lovegrove who has come in doing strength and conditioning and he has massive experience with Hull KR and London Broncos. Doncaster have done their homework and are getting everything in place for where they want to be. Now it’s up to us to do the hard work on the field.

“I’m enjoying it. Obviously, I was here on dual-reg quite a lot last season so had a taste. It’s a lot different to being a full-time professional rugby player but that’s where Doncaster want to be in the future – Super League. It’s good being part of a group having that long-term goal and looking to improve.

“Obviously, Toronto are in here but there’s some other great teams like York, Barrow and Keighley so we know it’ll be tough. There will be plenty fighting for that top two to get promoted to the Championship.

“The stadium here is better than some in Super League and there are great people running this club. Obviously, everyone is talking about Toronto getting there but we want to do it as well.

“We’re excited; it’s going to be a lot tougher than last season given the calibre of teams.”

One prospect all of League One will look forward to is the sight of Paleaaesina going up against former New Zealand colleague Fuifui Moimoi, now of Toronto.

When those two collide, there could be seismic activity felt as far away as Sheffield.

“We are big mates me and Fuifui,” said Paleaaesina, whom Hull signed in 2014 and reinvigorated after a spell with French Limoux,

“I’ll be giving him a text before that game saying he’s not allowed to run at me! He’s a big unit and character and he’s class for them.

“But there’ll be Super League clubs turning their heads to League One this year looking for players you may not have heard of. We’ve a dual-reg with Hull FC and I know for a fact that their coach, Lee Radford, watches all our games on DVD.”

Doncaster finished fourth in the 15-team division last term so know they must improve.

“We played Coventry last year and only just managed to win so we know they’ll be tough again,” added Paleaaesina, Hull’s player welfare officer.

“I’ve a lot of respect for the guys here, though. We’ve scaffolders, teachers, joiners, all sorts. They do a full day’s work then come in three nights a week training. It’s a massive eye-opener. I’ve played pro’ since I was 16 so seeing people who have been out scaffolding at 6am makes me realise how fortunate I’ve been.

“They’re pretty handy, too, if I need anything doing at home!”