NO ONE doubts the Championship Cup games between Yorkshire Carnegie and Doncaster Knights over the next eight days will be played with all the usual vim and vigour expected of such derby fixtures.
However, in all honesty it is the third imminent meeting of these sides – the league contest at Castle Park at the end of next month – for which both operations are truly preparing.
Carnegie face Knights in one of their ‘on the road’ fixtures at Hull Ionians’ this lunchtime and then again at Doncaster next Saturday in the clubs’ third outing in the inaugural Cup competition.
But it is that looming game at Castle Park on December 29 – the return to league action after six weeks of Cup action – that everyone is fixed on essentially given its importance for both. Before this break for the Cup, Carnegie garnered just one win from their opening nine league games to leave them rooted to the bottom.
Chris Stirling’s side desperately need to win that festive contest to kick-start their campaign or the fear of an unthinkable relegation for a side that was contesting the Championship final just 18 months ago will surely increase.
This said, Doncaster have not fared much better having already lost six of their outings; today’s game is a chance to tinker, fine-tune and improve.
Carnegie won their Cup opener against Nottingham, but fell at Coventry last week, while Knights – who yesterday signed experienced ex-Carnegie and London Irish hooker Mike Mayhew – are undefeated in three games.
Carnegie have made a raft of signings recently to augment their squad, including the on-loan Bath duo of lock Will Britton and tighthead Sam Nixon, who having arrived this week.
Doncaster give competitive debuts to academy players Seth Adams and Sam Pocklington, on loan from Doncaster Phoenix.
Another academy player Sam Jones and captain Michael Hills also return from injury, while Samoa prop Matt Talaese makes his debut and ex-Carnegie centre Mat Clark his 100th Doncaster appearance.