AS much as Doncaster Knights have yet to hit last season’s stunning heights, Yorkshire Carnegie captain Ryan Burrows fully expects them to be back to their best for this evening’s derby.
The South Yorkshire side have lost three of their eight Championship games so far and struggled to impres,s but are still intent on building on their remarkable 2015-16 campaign when they finished second and reached the play-off final.
Carnegie, who Doncaster toppled in the semi-final, have started in far better form this time around, winning their opening seven games before finally losing their 100 per cent league record against leaders London Irish in their last outing.
Ahead of their Headingley meeting, Burrows told The Yorkshire Post: “They are struggling for the same consistency and what do you put that down to?
“They’ve lost a couple of good players with Will Hurrell going to Bristol and Ollie Stedman coming here, but that’s only two players and that doesn’t make a team.
“Did they punch over their weight last season? Maybe so.
“But it doesn’t matter come Friday – Donny are Donny and I’m sure Clive (Griffiths) will have them revved up again.”
For all that Carnegie lost 41-17 at unbeaten Irish, suggesting they remain way off the pace when it comes to challenging the favourites for promotion, they are unbowed.
“With 15 minutes to go, we were 21-17 down, but then we conceded another 20 points late on,” explained Burrows. “They all came on the back of our errors, which is probably what we’ve been guilty of all season, but against a side of Irish’s calibre they make you pay for those mistakes.
“We put them under pressure in terms of our defence and attack, but just not for long enough periods.
“It’s disappointing we lost, but there were a lot of unforced errors and the pleasing thing is we know there’s a lot we can work on and improve.
“The most important thing for us now is we right the wrongs from that game and put a better performance in against Donny; we’ll need to do as it’s massively important we get straight back to winning ways.”
Burrows has switched to blindside flanker of late to facilitate Stedman’s arrival in the starting line-up at No 8.
It came as a surprise to some given the marauding Burrows is regarded as the best player in that position in the competition, but he maintained he is fine with the change.
“I prefer playing eight and I’m sure Ollie does as well, but the most important thing is we’re both out on the field at the same time and playing to the best of our abilities,” said the former Rotherham Titans forward.
“If Ollie was asked to play at six he’d do the job there, too, I’m sure.
“It’s just a number at the end of the day and it doesn’t stop me doing what I do.”
This is, among other things, making trademark tackle-breaking carries that more often than not leave battered defenders grounded in his wake.
With Stedman known for his own hard-running style, too, head coach Bryan Redpath certainly has attacking options when it comes to that aspect of the game .
“Ollie takes a lot of pressure off me and I take pressure off him, too,” continued the 28-year-old.
“Last year, there was perhaps more emphasis on me to carry the ball, but now we can pose teams different threats.
“We’ve more carriers now with Mike Mayhew and Richard Mayhew and all of a sudden we’ve got a lot of really destructive ball carriers.”
As part of the back-row battle tonight, Burrows will face former Carnegie team-mate Jarad Williams, who left Headingley during the summer.
“I spoke to Jarad in the week and he said it’ll be a little bit weird playing here against his old team,” he said. “But we’ve spoken about it every week – we just need to improve and look for our best performance. If we do that we’ll be quietly confident.”
Second-row Richard Beck replaces Dan Sanderson, who is on the bench for Carnegie, who are without the injured quintet of Mike Myerscough, Matt Smith, Dean Schofield, Richard Mayhew and Andy Forsyth.
Former Australia Under-20 Harrison Orr arrives from Kingston Park and is on the bench for Knights, who field a new-look front-row in Robin Hislop, Ben Hunter and Colin Quigley.