DONS: Another Bloody Brilliant Sunday

CELEBRATION TIME: The Dons celebrate winning the Championship One Grand Final. Picture: Rob Terrace.
CELEBRATION TIME: The Dons celebrate winning the Championship One Grand Final. Picture: Rob Terrace.

DONCASTER RLFC got exactly what they deserved in the Championship One Grand Final, writes Liam Hoden.

Not in terms of the mammoth defensive effort that allowed them to produce a 16-13 win over a very good Barrow outfit.

But in that they can now officially claim a title that should have been theirs anyway – champions.

For any other club to have gone down in the history books as Championship One champions would have been a travesty.

The Dons topped Championship One after winning more games and scoring more points than any of their nine rivals.

Being named ‘league leaders’ – particularly after being initially congratulated by the RFL on a first ever championship – was no where near a sufficient label for such an achievement.

And let’s not start on the tea tray ‘shield’ they were presented with as reward for their six months of success.

Tony Miller attempted to deflect attention off the RFL’s change of heart and said all at the club were content with their achievement as the first league winners in the club’s history.

But Miller wryly admitted in the aftermath of Sunday’s win that his squad had used it as motivation to chase the championship.

Titles do matter and the Dons are rightful champions.

They played through the majority of the season with an attacking swagger befitting champions.

But when the going got tough, this group of players also had the fighting spirit and determination of true champions.

That was never more apparent than in Sunday’s Grand Final.

They did not make life easy for themselves with an out of sorts, error strewn display that gave Barrow far too many phases deep inside Doncaster territory.

But despite long periods of pressure, the Dons rarely looked like cracking.

They actually seemed to relish playing without the ball and challenging their opponents to break down the walls.

The performance might not have been the most eye-catching of the season but it certainly has a shout at being the most satisfying.

The Dons showed the RFL what makes a champion.

The message was clear: take something away from us and we will come back stronger.

That is the fighting spirit that has taken the club from the edge of the abyss to the top of the mountain over three years.

That, and a great deal of common sense.

Carl Hall and the rest of the club’s advisory board have now reset things back to year one.

While that might be the case in terms of expectations and spending, there will be little else like three years ago about 2013.

The last year one was a time when most people were thankful there was still a club left to call the Dons.

Next season might be year one in the Championship, but it will be one with a determination to make a mark rather than to simply exist.

The step up will be incredibly tough as anyone who witnessed the sheer size of Featherstone Rovers’ forward line in Sunday’s Championship Grand Final will agree.

But those that saw the battle and bottle from the Dons on Sunday will be confident in them holding their own next season.

Hall said the three year plan that has now been reset includes a year of fun at the end of it.

If 2015 is even half as fun as 2012 it will be a great year.

The Dons’ year started with a rare press conference called in January.

There, a humble and focused Paul Cooke was unveiled as perhaps the biggest signing in the club’s history.

Cooke went on to live up to that billing with game after game of brilliant performances with the ball, keeping the Dons’ tempo in check like a metronome, his phenomenally accurate passes bringing delightful cries from supporters.

There was the opening day 48-16 demolition of a Whitehaven side that would ultimately be one of the division’s powerhouses.

And Russ Spiers’ early try at the magnificent Ordsall Stadium that raised hopes of a Challenge Cup shock against Bradford Bulls.

That might have been as good as it got for the Dons on that day, but the season was just getting started.

For the vast majority of the campaign, when you watched Doncaster you got tries, and plenty of them.

Lee Waterman led the way with his record breaking year, scoring more than any other Dons player had in a single season including five in 78-6 mauling of Gateshead Thunder.

Successive home wins over Barrow and Workington put the Dons in contention for top spot before defeat at Whitehaven seemed to take it away.

But one day shifted the landscape again with Barrow and Workington both losing to leave the title in the Dons’ hands on the final day.

And what a day it was in the north of the capital at London Skolars.

No nerves, only determination, professionalism and attacking flair.

And then one hell of a party.

Just when you thought it could not get any better, the Dons sweep the board at the RFL awards night, justifiably claiming club of the year, coach of the year for Miller and player of the year for Cooke who also claimed the Northern Star award for the contribution to the community that lured him back into competitive rugby league.

And then there was last Sunday at a wind and rain battered Warrington.

Barrow wanted to win the Grand Final but the Dons wanted to win it even more.

Let the record books show that the Dons were the Championship One champions in 2012.

The year of Another Bloody Brilliant Sunday.